Sara Mojtehedzadeh, wealth and work reporter, informs Ryerson students on precarious employment
Sara Mojtehedzadeh addresses Ryerson students during an engaging discussion on the unjust working conditions of part-time employees and inters. Photographer credit: Alexis Perikleous
Employers taking advantage of interns and part-time employees has become a cultural norm, says the Toronto Star’s work and wealth reporter.
Young adults, immigrants and others who are desperate for employment and/or experience are exploited by employers due to flaws in Ontario labour laws, Mojtehedzadeh told Ryerson University students on Wednesday.
“Many of these workers are so incredibly vulnerable and they don’t even have protection over unjust dismissal,” said Mojtehedzadeh.
Under the current Employment Standards Act, not a single worker is protected from wrongful dismissal and there are at least 45 professions in the province that do not have the right to be paid minimum wage, she said.
“Last year there were 12,000 successful complaints against employers for unpaid wages and other entitlements, but only eight of those employers were prosecuted by the Ministry of Labour for breaking the law,” said Mojtehedzadeh.
“If the work is worth doing, it’s worth being paid for.”
Stephanie Critelli, a marketing graduate from York University, said although her internship at Astral Media six years ago was paid, she would have done the work for free “just based on circumstance, because everyone needs to start somewhere essentially.”
Although not all people have the financial freedom to work for free, “for people who have student loans to pay off or who don’t come from money… It’s just not possible for them to survive,” said Mojtehedzadeh.
“We do need to think about how we protect those workers who are not doing it out of choice, but are doing it because there is no other work available.”
During her co-op placement at the auto retailer 1-800-Radiator, Melina Magnatta, a 19-year-old high school graduate, felt exploited. “They had me doing the most random things that no one wants to do. You’re working the same amount of hours, or longer as someone employed there, except you’re not getting paid.”
Currently, Magnatta is now working part time at Lamanna’s Bakery and endures the stress that comes with precarious employment.
“There are so many teenagers that apply looking for part-time work, so I have to make sure I’m doing my best. Because I can easily be fired or replaced, I’ve seen it happen so many times.”
Joanna Giannoulis, another part-time employee is a waitress at Jack Astor’s restaurant at. The 22-year-old Ryerson English graduate said, “It’s always up in the air. You don’t know what time you’re going to finish. So when I was in school that was a problem. It was stressful.”
Giannoulis said she feels taken advantage of at times, as managers put her and other employees on the spot, unable to say no to taking on extra hours.
“The thing that’s most unstable is your hours and your money,” she said. “A lot of people won’t have money for rent if they’re working day shifts instead of night shifts. But if a manager doesn’t like you, they’ll give you a day shift as punishment.”
Mojtehedzadeh offered a few words of advice, “if the work is worth doing, it’s worth being paid for.”