Workers at Del Monte during their strike.
Workers at Del Monte during their strike. Credit: Migrante Ontario Credit: Migrante Ontario

Earlier this year Oshawa, ON, Del Monte shuttered the doors to the local factory. Seventy-one workers at the Oshawa Del Monte factory were terminated without notice or severance pay

Prior to the closure, these workers were on the picket line fighting for a livable wage above poverty line and other basic compensations. Three weeks into the strike, Del Monte announced the factory was shutting down and stated it was due to the economic impact of the strike.

But since Del Monte used a third-party temporary staffing agency, Premier, to hire these 71 workers, the company was able to subvert Ontario employment laws by simply cancelling their temp agency contract.

“That’s a massive loophole that was exploited in this situation which made it so that Premier didn’t have to give any kind of termination or severance pay to these workers and especially to workers who had been there for five years and who are entitled to severance pay,” said Navjeet Sidhu, international director at Unifor.

“In this situation, it was really gaps in the Employment Standards Act. Whenever an employer terminates a contract, it really gives zero protection for the workers because they have very little recourse in that situation. It’s a constant issue for workers,” Sidhu added.

In the event that a worker is terminated because of economic loss or discontinuation of business because of a strike, they are not entitled to notice of termination or severance pay according to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA).

“Essentially again, they’re blaming the workers who were not asking for $40 an hour increases. You know, they were asking for a very modest increase from $16 to $20, and they even brought that demand down to $18. And still, Premier just came back with a very insulting five cent increase offer to their wages,” said Sidhu.

Exploitative nature of temporary staffing agencies and multinational companies

When the Oshawa Del monte workers took to the picket line when Premier presented them with an insulting offer on wage increases.

“For the first year we were offered 5 cents … and then 50 cents for the second year, and then adding $1 for the last year,” said Wilma Delo, organizer and chairperson of Migrante Barrie. 

If the offer was accepted, workers would get a total of $1.55 over three years. In addition to fair wages, workers were fighting for other basic compensations such as paid sick days, bereavement leave and basic benefits.

Despite being a multinational company, Del Monte refused to provide Premier with resources to provide better working conditions.

According to a letter from Unifor national president, Lana Payne to Premier Doug Ford, the company makes over $4 billion USD in revenue each year. For 2023, they are expected to see post profits of $400 million.

“Employers who use temporary agencies and then they just cancel contracts. They call [it] flip contracts so they can have this revolving door of vulnerable exploitable workers that they don’t have to provide benefits, pensions, vacations, sick pay and that kind of thing,” said Sidhu.

“It gets them off the hook of all these basic benefits and compensation that employers should be giving workers,” Sidhu added.

Legislation gap in protecting workers hired by temp agencies

The situation in Oshawa Del Monte revealed a gap in regulating temporary staffing agencies. The complex relationship between temp agencies, multinational corporations, unions and workers ultimately disrupts fair collective bargaining and tips the scale in favour of employers. 

The use of temp agencies also allowed Del Monte to bypass employment laws and exploit workers, many of which were from low-income and racialized communities.

Earlier this year, two letters from Unifor were sent to the Ontario government to call attention to this legislative loophole—one directly from Unifor national president Lana Payne and a joint letter from Unifor and Migrante.

Currently, mediation is underway to get workers severance pay from Del Monte and Premier. Both Unifor and Migrante are working together to find ways to help these workers.

Kiah Lucero smiling and holding a camera.

Kiah Lucero

Kiah Lucero is a multimedia journalist based out of Calgary, Alta. Back in April 2020, she completed her Bachelor of Communication, majoring in journalism from Mount Royal University. Her published work...