Human nature is a funny thing, especially in its ability to compartmentalize things. For example, I suspect that the vast majority of us are able to witness the plight of suffering around the world with a certain dispassion; images from halfway across the world of disaster, for example, we are able to process without a great deal of emotional involvement, the mediating influence of geography being a big factor. Statistics show a widening gap between the rich and the poor, but that information is received intellectually, not personally. It is only when the suffering is up close and personal, when we are able to put a particular face to injustice, for example, that we are moved to emotions like sympathy, empathy, even outrage.
The plight of the precariat
has the potential to elicit the latter reactions. The Toronto Star has been conducting an ongoing series on the topic, and its individual portrayals of those toiling under low-paying and uncertain jobs has been quite moving. But, perhaps predictably, one of those who spoke to the paper has now experienced retaliation from his employer.
In the May 10 installment
of the series, 61-year-old Angel Reyes was profiled. Here is a brief excerpt:
For more than five years, 61-year-old Angel Reyes has woken up five days a week at 3 a.m. and braced himself for eight hours of hauling garbage at a Toronto recycling plant.
The university-educated refugee is the longest-serving worker on the floor, hired through a temp agency more than half a decade ago.
Half a decade and, technically, still a temp.
Half a decade earning minimum wage, never having seen a raise.
Half a decade, and still paid less per hour than his permanent colleagues for doing the same job.
Half a decade, and still no benefits.
Half a decade, and still no obligation for his employer to hire him permanently.
“If hell exists, that is hell,” says Reyes, a father of three who came to Canada in 1993 after he was kidnapped and imprisoned in El Salvador for — ironically — lobbying for workers’ rights.I remember after reading his and others' stories how long it would be before retaliation was meted out. For Reyes, the day of corporate judgement came just a short time
after his story appeared:
Just one week after sharing his story with the Star, he was told to finish out the hour at the plant and go home.
Almost a month later, he has not been called back. He has not received termination pay. And he has not been given a straight answer as to why he was let go.
“I feel so sad, because I’ve been working there for so long,” he says.His de facto employer, Canada Fibres recycling plant, will not discuss his situation, and they are likely able to get away with this reprehensible treatment for a simple reason: technically speaking, Reyes was employed, even after five years at the same job, by a temp agency, United Staffing Services. In Ontario, agencies are considered the “employer of record” for temps.
Not that this in any way absolves Canada Fibres of its moral culpability in this very sordid business:
When he spoke to the Star in May, Reyes had a simple request for the company: “Hire me.”
Instead, one week later, Reyes and six temporary colleagues were summoned by United Staffing Services, which has an office at the plant itself, and told to go home.
Reached by the Star, Chris Ilkanic of United Staffing said the plant was “downsizing” and that plant management, not the temp agency, decided who to let go.
Ilkanic added the plant manager told him Reyes had appeared in the Star but “didn’t have any problems with it.”
Reyes says when he approached Canada Fibres’ general manager to plead for his job back, he was batted back to the temp agency.
Reyes says he didn’t get an explanation as to why he was let go and former colleagues told him that several of the temps sent home at the same time are now back on the job.A spokesman for Canada Fibres, Mark Badger, responded to requests from The Star for comment with the tiresomely predicable non-answer due to "privacy concerns" and the standard platitudes:
... the company is growing overall and strives to provide a good work environment.
“There are a lot of people who are really proud of what they do here and have worked here for a long time,” he told the Star.
Tell that to Angel Reyes, Mr. Badger.