Montreal

Temp workers underpaid, overworked in Montreal warehouses, report finds

A new report by the Immigrant Workers Centre has found more than 15,000 people in Quebec, many of them migrants, are employed by temp agencies that underpay them and make them work long hours in unsafe environments.

Workers described warehouses where safety was sacrificed for productivity

Mohamed Barry was badly injured while doing temporary work in a Montreal warehouse. The experience, he said, was a "nightmare." (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

In the seven years since Mohamed Barry, an asylum seeker from Guinea, came to Montreal, he's had to work in several warehouses.

Five years ago, he was working in a refrigerated warehouse when he fell and a forklift rolled over his foot.

He lost two toes.

"I still have pain," Barry said. "I'm still taking medication. I'm still waiting for another surgery, for years. It's really a nightmare."

Barry has since found another job at a bank, and has gone back to school. But the conditions that led to his resignation have been brought to light in a new report detailing the "hyper-exploitation" of warehouse workers in Montreal.

The report, by the Immigrant Workers Centre, states more than 15,000 people in Quebec, many of them migrants, are are employed by temp agencies that underpay them and make them work long hours in unsafe environments.

The centre surveyed 42 workers who described job environments where they were constantly pressured to move faster.

According to the report, workers said that bump in productivity came at the cost of safety and that they were not compensated for the increased output.

Many of the respondents said they felt their workplace wasn't safe, and that they didn't get paid for sick days.

With an Amazon distribution centre set to open in Montreal soon, Mostafa Henaway is calling on the government to close loopholes that allow temp agencies to operate without scrutiny. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

With an Amazon distribution centre set to open soon in Montreal, one of the report's co-authors called on the government to close loopholes that allow temp agencies to operate without scrutiny. 

"When you click on your phone, and some product shows up at your door, you're amazed at the technology," said Mostafa Henaway. "Behind it is a large workforce that is low paid, treated like robots."

Henaway once got a job at a warehouse through a temp agency. He said conditions were gruelling: he had to build more than a dozen seven-foot high palettes every day, and there was a lot of pressure to fill the quota.

"You really feel like you're disposable at the end of the day," he said.

'Tough it out'

Olwale Ogundipe came to Canada from Nigeria last year. He has a master's degree in finance from a Nigerian university.

But when he arrived here, he could only find a job in a cramped warehouse — a job he described as strenuous, and one he wouldn't want his worst enemy to do.

He was also injured while on the job. His supervisor, who worked at the temp agency, told him to tough it out.

"The agency hires you. You don't have a contract. You don't belong to the agency, you don't belong to the company you're working for," said Ogundipe, who has since quit working in warehouses.

"You're in between … you're like a ball that [they] just toss around."

Both Henaway and Chantal Ide, a spokesperson for the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) union, say Quebec needs to better enforce laws and regulations around temp agencies and temp work.

"It's unbelievable that in Quebec in 2019, we have workers that are exploited in such a way," Ide said.

Reporting by Verity Stevenson

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