Temp agencies give employers unfair advantage

Employment agencies are a scam.

If you’ve ever been out of work and looking for a labour job, you will know exactly what I mean.

Newspapers are riddled with ads claiming dozens of labour jobs are available and companies are desperate for workers. The only problem is the majority of these ads are placed by employment agencies, not companies actively seeking to hire new workers.

For many, realization comes shortly after arrival at an agency. It will quickly dawn on them that they’ve walked into a spinning circle of employment uncertainty.

Basically, the gig goes like this.

You apply over the phone or through email. They will typically call you in to their office, interview you and give you an aptitude test. At this point, the employees’ irritating, upbeat attitudes and consistently creepy smiles should be a telltale sign that something is, in fact, not right.

They’ll explain they have a position already lined up for you and tell you great things about the company you will be working for. Then they’ll tell you that if you essentially work your ass off, the company will hire you on and give you full-time work with an attractive perk called benefits that no sane person would turn down.

Upon your arrival to your new work place, you’ll probably be excited and a little nervous for your first day of work. You are sloppily greeted by an authority figure who spends little to no time explaining what you will be doing. Within minutes you are paired up with an employee who you will shadow for the day to learn the ins and outs of the job. It is then that your new trainer drops the ball on you.

“From the agency too?” they’ll ask.

Yes, chances are you will be one of dozens of employees who will never be hired on by the company and never have a chance of promotion, benefits or a raise. But hey, you have the possibility of relocation to a new job. How’s that for security for ya?

I can’t speak for all municipalities in the GTA, but I can say that Brampton boasts many companies that offer many jobs – jobs which stem from Brampton’s strong industrial sector tucked along the southeast end of the city (Steeles/Bramalea/Airport).

There really isn’t a problem with companies hiring people for a month or two in the busy season and then having to let them go. For me, this is the only time the practice of hiring temps (in the labour field) should be valid, as that is exactly what it is – temporary. The problem is companies have realized that hiring on temps has the potential to save them money, versus hiring someone directly through the company.


Comic by Colton Gilson

Basically it allows companies to keep a unit of employees who are basically bound to a probation contract, regardless of the duration they spend working with the company, which subjects workers to unfair standards. Also, companies are not obligated to give temp workers any sort of benefits package, just a contract of employment. The sad part is someone in the same warehouse could be working for the company directly, doing the exact same job for better pay and a benefits package.

Shouldn’t there be some sort of regulation behind this?

As mentioned in my column The baby-boomers are going to retire right?, I alluded to our scary employment numbers, and I believe these agencies do nothing but hurt the morale of unemployed individuals, as the chances of actually getting hired on are slim to none.

According to the Vulnerable Workers Report by the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) in conjunction with McMaster University and United Way Toronto, 22 per cent of jobs could be characterized as precarious work in 2011 in Ontario.

“In Ontario, approximately 22% of jobs could be characterized as precarious work, defined as having low wages and at least two of three other features: no pension, no union and/or small firm size.” – Vulnerable Workers Report

Given the statistics, isn’t it time that we set up some rules regarding temp agencies – preferably ones that benefit the employee, not the agency and third party employer?

In Brampton there are many agencies, but there is one that sticks out to me, as not only do I have more than a few contacts who have worked with this one in particular, but I myself applied to work for this company as well (I believe I failed my online aptitude test).

This specific agency works hand in hand with a distribution centre for a Canadian department store and literally hires thousands of individuals in the GTA. It has operated for years hiring from what I have heard is hundreds of people to work in this distribution centre – all year round –  for many, many years now.

I pose the question – does the practice of consistently hiring temp workers over and over instead of hiring on to the company sound fair? Is it just good business? Because if you consistently require hundreds of workers, what is the point of a temp agency? I would argue it is a game of savings.

If a company was to only hire on 50-100 staff directly to the company and outsource hundreds of jobs to an agency they stand to gain not only on wages, but benefit expenses – something I believe is an absolute jab into the gut of employment rights. If you require hundreds of workers – specifically temp workers – all year round, you need workers… all year round.

Another negative aspect of the temp industry is that these agencies aren’t pressed to take care of their employees as well as they do the companies with which they hold contracts.

For instance, a friend of mine was hired to work at a warehouse through an agency, and wouldn’t you know it, he had problems with the company he was sent to work for. He decided he’d had enough and would not return to the job site after he felt his rights had been violated.

When he brought this issue up with the agency, his concerns were not heard and instead they forced their concerns on him. He was told he was being a trouble maker and causing problems. Does that sound like the kind of language you would want to hear when all you’re trying to do is find employment?

I’m not saying temporary work shouldn’t exist, because I certainly believe some companies do require extra workers for their busy season. I understand that some jobs are only seasonal, but what I am saying is some of these temp agencies really just act as a third party between employees and the employer. A third party that leeches a few extra bucks per hour that would otherwise be yours and completely removes the concept of job stability as a normal thing in the job market.

Who knows, you could be lucky and get hired on by one of these companies. But if they’re willing to use a filtering process such as a temp agency, just imagine what other sleazy practices they’ll use with permanent employees when the time warrants such savings…