Worker advocates occupied Premier Doug Ford’s Etobicoke constituency office Wednesday, demanding stronger protections for temporary help agency workers, after an accident at North York industrial bakery Fiera Foods claimed the life of a 57-year-old father of two.
Police were called to the scene after about seven representatives of the Fight for $15 movement and several unions entered the office on Albion Rd. asking to speak with the premier on the phone, while a group of 30 others set up a barricade outside.
An office staffer who refused to identify herself said she had “zero comment” and asked a Star reporter to leave the building. Ford was in Kenora on Wednesday, where he was making an announcement related to infrastructure.
Enrico Miranda, who had been working at the factory for about five years through a temp agency, was crushed by a machine he was cleaning in September.
He was the fifth temporary employment agency worker to die at Fiera Foods or one of its affiliate plants since 1999.
“There have been five deaths, two of them on Doug Ford’s watch,” said Pam Frache of the Fight for $15 movement. “It’s not too much to save a life.”
Deena Ladd of the Toronto-based Workers Action Centre said “nothing else had worked” in the groups’ efforts to advocate for stronger protections for temp workers.
Last week, labour advocates wrote an open letter to the premier demanding that the provincial government implement the legislation that will make companies using temp agencies financially responsible for workplace deaths and injuries involving temp workers
“Shockingly, it has been almost two weeks since (Miranda’s) death and yet we have heard nothing from you,” the letter said. “You have chosen to remain silent, despite having the power to implement legislation that could have prevented this tragedy.”
Ontario’s previous Liberal government initiated a measure that would have ensured all companies who use temps are liable for their injuries at the workers’ compensation board, which workers’ advocates have long argued is a key financial incentive to protecting temps.
But the Liberals did not create the regulations necessary to enforce the new law before being booted from power last year. The Ford government has not moved to implement the measure.
The government has also repealed several other temp worker protections, including the right to equal pay for doing the same work as permanent employees.
On Wednesday, Ontario Federation of Labour head Chris Buckley called on the premier to “come out of hiding and do the right thing.”
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton cancelled a meeting Tuesday on the issue due to a “scheduling conflict,” Buckley added. A meeting with the deputy minister took place instead.
“It takes a stroke of a pen to help these workers in the province of Ontario,” Buckley said.
The Ministry of Labour is currently investigating Miranda’s death. Inspectors who attended the scene issued six health and safety requirements to Fiera, but the ministry refuses to say for what after recently changing its media disclosure policy. The ministry no longer has to reveal documented safety infractions until a full investigation into an employer is complete, a process that can take at least a year.
Fiera’s general counsel David Gelbloom has previously said the company understood “the lasting impact” of the “tragic workplace accident.”
“As a company, we are heartbroken and have been focused foremost on supporting the family and our employees through these first few difficult days. At the same time, we are fully co-operating with Ministry of Labour inspectors as they review the accident.”
Fiera describes itself as “one of North America’s largest suppliers of baked goods.” Its clients include Metro, Costco, Walmart and Dunkin’ Donuts (all have said they planned to address the latest fatality with Fiera.)
In early October, independent Toronto grocer Fiesta Farms announced on its website that it would no longer be purchasing croissants from Fiera Foods.
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“As a rule, we tend to keep our politics to ourselves,” their statement said. “But occasionally, like when an issue hits close to home, we need to take direct action.”
Documents obtained through a freedom of information request show that Ford was scheduled to participate in a tour of Fiera’s main facility just 15 days before an October 2018 death at its affiliated factory.
Asked whether Ford attended the tour, and whether any other meetings with Fiera leadership had taken place, a spokesperson said the premier “regularly meets with businesses from all across the province.”