September 15, 2016
Young Worker Horror Stories
In a recent, small-scale investigation blitz of employers by the Ministry of Labour in Ontario, it was discovered that 3/4 of employers were breaking already substandard labour laws. But what does this look like at the ground level?
Here are some stories from Rebel Youth readers about their work experiences:
A lot of people believe that jobs are good at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) but it’s not true, at least, not nowadays. The LCBO management does a decent job of adhering to scheduling, training, and safety procedures for employees, but the pay is shit. In 2014 and 2015 I worked three contracts as a Customer Service Representative at the LCBO at $12.25/hour with no benefits—quite awful for a government employer—how are we supposed to survive off contract work especially at this rate of pay? The LCBO is intent on hiring additional workers only for ‘demand’ seasons (i.e. winter holidays and summer) but otherwise they don’t care about you. They also don’t care if you’re not unionized (as a contract worker I had basically no rights in the collective agreement).
As a contract worker my hours were posted in advance but it would shift from 5 hours one week to 30 hours the next—not to mention that last summer I was constantly on call when other workers called in sick or they suddenly needed extra hands. I could reject a shift if I couldn’t make it, but being desperate for hours and thinking that taking on extra shifts would get me to a part-time casual position (it didn’t) I nearly always did it. The job itself was difficult too and I really feel for my retail comrades out there—people constantly whining, calling you a bitch, throwing hissy fits if something isn’t in stock, meanwhile your feet are aching because you’ve been standing for up to 8 hours (if retail companies would just get stools for all cashiers it would save the physical pain and misery of literally thousands of workers!).
But the tipping point came for me during my third contract when LCBO managers asked contract workers to do online training for free. The LCBO training is very thorough and necessary, especially on how to check IDs and refuse intoxicated people, but we need to be paid for the work we do. When I learned that we were expected to do online training for no pay and I remembered that my store manager always demanded that employees in my store come to work 15 minutes to ‘get ready’ (so basically every 4 shifts they’d get an hour of unpaid labour from me) — I lost it. I told the management that it was exploitive to do this to workers (my mistake, I should’ve went to my union instead of management). My store manager wasn’t there when I said it but when I went to my first shift I knew that he knew what I said about his practices. Things were tense for that whole winter contract and I felt terribly uncomfortable around him. Then, when my contract ended my store manager gave me a really bad job evaluation—he wrote that I was unmotivated, I didn’t take initiative, other coworkers would complain about me, that I was unhappy on the job… I knew this was all bullshit because my previous two job evaluations were perfect. He never complained about my job performance in the past and he didn’t have any suggestions for improvement. Usually he calls me when the LCBO is hiring but I noticed this season he didn’t — not that I really want to go back at this point.
I don’t want alcohol sales to be privatized in Ontario but I also have bitter memories of work at the LCBO — I think their downfall is the intensification of their corporate structure where managers don’t give a shit about their workers and their livelihoods (did you know it can take upwards of 10 years to get a full-time permanent job at the LCBO? Unbelievable…). The best part I loved about the job was being with my coworkers who are all intelligent, passionate and lovely people — I miss them and I hope the best for them.
Rachel, Richmond Hill, 25
Over the past two years I have worked two jobs. One under the Earls restaurant chain and the other under the Loblaws grocery store chain.
Both started off similar with three hours of training and pay checks not being produced for multiple weeks. Here I was pushed aside and made to believe this was typical.
I have suffered severe chemical burns while trying to remove pans from nearly boiling cleaning solutions and was simply told to hurry up.
I have had co-workers collapse at work after being overworked for nine hours; several of which went unpaid. The unfortunate part of all this is any talk about said working conditions is grounds for dismissal under company policy.
Luke, Calgary, 19
I worked at a fast food restaurant in a very busy part of town for over two years. My boss would always hire workers who have an international student visa, who at the time were not allowed to legally work in Canada. The majority of the store staff were student visa workers.
Why did my boss go out of his way to hire workers who were not illegaly able to work? So he can pay them 8 dollars an hour, well below the minimum wage. In addition to that, no labor laws apply to them, so they routinely worked 12+ hour shifts, no overtime, no time off and no benefits whatsoever. The boss knows full well that they cannot use whatever little protection there is for workers, so he routinely abused staff and stole their wages. Whenever there was a conflict with one of the workers, the boss would threaten to report them to immigration officials, which might result in their deportation before they finish their studies. Those students were paying ridiculously high international tuition fees, supporting themselves, and sending money to their families back home. They worked under these conditions out of desperation. There was no course of action that would protect them from the boss. Luckily due to community organising, international students are able to legally work now but cash jobs still exist. This story really showcases how low capitalists can go to seek the maximum amount of profit.
I worked another job at a grocery store. The manager was relatively young and would always comment on the bodies of his female employees when they were not around. Female employees would always complain about how creepy he was and how we was always hitting on them. There was no course of action to deal with the situation as the manager hires and fires people with ease, standing up to him would surely mean the loss of your job. Which is what happened to me.
I worked another job at a high end restaurant that was started by a world famous chef. There was a white sous chef who had mixture of Chinese and Japanese prep cooks working under him. He routinely made fun of their languages and accents when speaking English, thinking it was in good fun but it made the cooks visibly uncomfortable. The cooks were not able to stand up to him, as it was a highly competitive environment and the sous chef can very easily fire them. Smash Capitalism!
Mohamed, Toronto, 22
After two months of searching, I got an interview at a fast food sandwich store in downtown Toronto. It was at this July interview where I was informed that the first twelve hours of work were going to be considered “training” and as such would not be paid until I completed my probationary period.
With bills piling up and collection agencies hunting me down every single day, I needed this job more than ever before so my decision was simple.
I did not flinch as I know how difficult it is to find a job; and apparently agreeing to this rule was all it took to get the job. Little did I know that “training” at this location merely meant working and trying your best to keep up.
And so began the worst job I have ever had. People at this location were not allowed to take real breaks. Even when you worked ten hours straight, all you were allowed were 10 minutes in which you could not leave the restaurant, and were expected to quickly return to work if more than two customers walked in. For example, I asked my employer if I could please leave the restaurant on a payday as my shift ended after the bank closed and I needed money deposited in order to pay bills and I was denied my request.
Of course I knew that something wasn’t right with how this employer conducted herself. We all knew a lot of what took place was wrong and unjust. We all knew that the owner taking money from the tip jar and placing it in the till was wrong but we also knew that there was nothing we could do about it.
We considered ourselves lucky. Potential new hires walked in every single day, resume in hand, each one more qualified than the next. Who were we to question the owner of the store? The person who determined how many hours you worked next week. The person who determined who stayed and who went.
I want to emphasize that I’m just one worker. There are a million low-waged workers in Ontario who are undoubtedly having similar experiences.
Denise, Toronto, 26
This article is printed in Issue 20 of Rebel Youth which is now available! The issue deals has a focus on racism and anti-racist struggles. Find out more and subscribe today!
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