Partisan №4

Squeezing the Workers

Two Montréal-based organizations, “Au Bas de L’Échelle” and the Immigrant Workers Centre, recently launched a campaign to protect the rights of workers in temporary employment agencies. While the use of these agencies is spreading like wildfire, their practices contribute to the insecurity of a growing number of workers. In Québec alone, there are more than 1,200 agency offices currently in operation. In 2008 their earnings exceeded one billion dollars.

The two organizations listed poor working conditions, especially low wages, unfair contracts, the use of agencies to circumvent regulations or weaken unions (where they exist), the higher risk of accidents and in the worst cases, undeclared (and unpaid!) work and repeated violations of labour laws as being among the problems associated with working for a temporary employment agency.

For the companies who use them, temporary agencies may represent huge savings on labour costs, partly because they no longer have to pay for certain benefits. They can also use agencies to avoid fulfilling their legal obligations. And since there is no limit on how long one company can use a “temporary” worker, it is not uncommon to see people working in the same position for years, never escaping the precarious and exploitative situation these temporary positions create.

Both “Au Bas de L’Échelle” and the Immigrant Workers Centre are asking the government of Québec to require operating permits for those running temporary employment agencies. They also demand “that the Act Respecting Labour Standards recognizes a principle of shared responsibility between agencies and client companies to ensure compliance with labour standards for agency workers.” These minimum demands are obviously correct.

One has to see, however, that the increased use of agencies is happening in a context where the capitalists are doing everything to consolidate their base for profit accumulation. Faced with competition from emerging capitalist countries and the problems coming from the anarchy of their own speculative financial markets, the capitalists ensure their profits are secured by increasing the exploitation of their workers, in effect making them pay —through lower wages, fewer benefits, and higher workloads— for the problems created by the capitalist system.

To counter this trend, it is not enough to try to regulate things a little more. We must address the very foundations of the system that produces these conditions. To fight against capitalist exploitation means organizing ourselves independently and defending our own unique interests as workers. This is precisely what the Revolutionary Workers Movement —an initiative of the Revolutionary Communist Party in the Montréal area— is trying to do. (Information: 514 409-2444 •

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