Montreal warehouse workers employed in gruelling, unsafe conditions: Report

One-quarter of those surveyed have been injured at work

Montreal warehouse workers employed in gruelling, unsafe conditions: Report

Warehouse workers in Montreal do their work under gruelling, unsafe and unstable conditions, according to a recent report by the Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC).

The Commission on Warehouse Work in Montreal says a business model exists in the logistics sector that is based on the “hyper-exploitation of a workforce largely comprised of migrants.” Ten per cent of the 15,600 warehouse workers in the Greater Montreal Area are hired through temporary placement agencies, and these workers are largely made up of refugees from Africa, the report said.

Four in 10 of temp warehouse workers say that they didn’t receive health and safety training at their workplace while 42.9 per cent say they didn’t receive the proper safety equipment, the IWC said in the report after surveying 42 placement agency workers. Almost one-quarter of the workers said they were injured at work and 42.9 per cent of the workers said they feel their workplace is not safe.

One worker was told that he has to pay if he wishes to use the equipment for his work, according to the report.

At a Dollarama warehouse, workers described occasions where the push for productivity often led to poor safety practices.

“Some people are unsafe, some people work good, but with people that are unsafe and do not work good, that is dangerous for work environment,” one worker said.

Accidents involving falling boxes were common in warehouses, the report found. In one situation, workers said they were being asked to both manually put heavy boxes on the upper portion of storage rooms and retrieve them. The workers raised this safety issue, but no action was taken.

“I see some accidents. Some person took the pallet and it fell in the back,” said one worker. “He goes after to the hospital.”

After an incident, “they don’t call,” one worker said. “They wait if you are OK. It is like a joke. They don’t help me for nothing.”

A worker at another warehouse said that he was asked to operate a machine just two weeks into the job even though he didn’t have the expertise to use the machine.

Fourteen per cent of those surveyed said they received psychological harassment at work.

With few opportunities and a need to earn money, many immigrants are forced to take whatever jobs are available to them, often precarious and low-paid warehouse work through a placement agency, the study said.

According to the IWC, labour conditions could be improved in Quebec warehouses by enacting a decree, an extension of a collective agreement that applies to all workers in a specific trade, industry, profession, or occupation, even those who are not unionized.

“Warehouses can be and should be sites of revitalization of labour organizing of [the] 21st century,” but the challenge “is organizing workers in temporary jobs with high turnover rates to take action,” IWC said.