Quebec workers left out in the cold

Workers protesting outside the Ministry of Labour in Quebec (M.Cooke
Workers protesting outside the Ministry of Labour in Quebec (M.Cooke

Workers protesting outside the Ministry of Labour in Quebec (M.Cooke)

by M. Cooke

“People walk over us, they do what they want” said Boniface as he stood on the front steps of the office tower that houses the Quebec Ministry of Labour.

Boniface and several other immigrant workers had braved the cold autumn rain to demand that the Quebec government create a bill to improve the work conditions for precarious workers.

“We are holding this action on the International Day of Decent Work to reiterate our demands for a more inclusive and just regulation of the labour market, as well as an immigration and social service system that fairly reflects the needs and rights of precarious and migrant workers” said Noé Artega, who works at the Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC).

Jasmin de la Calzada, an organizer with Pinay, a Filipino Women’s Organization of Quebec,spoke next. “Pinay, and its membership of live-in caregivers, has been struggling for over 20 years to keep the women workers free from abuse and exploitation from their employers, scrupleless recruitment agencies, and the unjust trappings embedded in the live-in caregiver program itself.”

A recent report by the Quebec ministry of Labour indicated that over 450,000 workers in Quebec have precarious jobs. These are jobs that: pay low wages, have no or few benefits, have few regulatory protections, and have no security.

The report also found that nearly 1.3 million workers in Quebec experience job and employment insecurity.

These are workers who have been unemployed in the last two years and regularly have to find new work.

“Precarious jobs are becoming central to the economy” says Mostafa Henaway, who works at the IWC.

“Agency work used to just be to find white collar workers. Now you see big agencies being used as a normal way of employing blue collar workers.”

Henaway says that he meets a lot of people working for placement agencies. The smaller placement agencies are often fly-by-night operations. They make money by hiring out workers to other companies and then they close down shortly afterwards. The owners of the agencies make their money and often close without having paid their workers.

While these fly-by-night operations are the most egregious, the larger placement agencies also trample on workers’ rights.

Henaway says that placement agencies “help create a permanently precarious workforce.”

“People are living on the edge. People are working six days a week, but they don’t know when they will have work again.”

The IWC and community organizations are demanding: a living wage, universal access to health services regardless of migrant status, access to accident insurance for domestic workers, and regulation of placement and recruitment agencies.

The groups met with the Ministry of Labour in May, but Henaway says the consultation “resulted in nothing.”

He says that the Parti Quebecois “actually doesn’t want to do anything because just like the Liberal party, they want to appease the interests of business. Which means not actually giving protections to precarious workers.”

“Now we realize that we need to put pressure in a public way.”