Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

In a study consulted exclusively by Radio-Canada, researchers paint a bleak portrait of working conditions in the Montreal warehouses of Dollarama and Amazon.

Amazon and Dollarama warehouses under study

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An Amazon warehouse in Montreal (Archive photo)

  • David Savoie (View profile)David Savoie

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Very precarious jobs, workers who do not know their rights, or very little, and who work in often dangerous working environments to carry out very physically demanding tasks. All this without taking into account hours that can be suddenly reduced and workers who can find themselves out of work overnight.

These are some of the findings reached by researchers who participated in a partnership research project on the Dollarama and Amazon warehouses in Montreal. This study was carried out by the Interuniversity and Interdisciplinary Research Group on Employment, Poverty and Social Protection (GIREPS), by the Center for Immigrant Workers (CTTI) and by the Association of Workers of placement agency (ATTAP).

The organization of work at Dollarama and Amazon has the effect of squeezing workers like lemons, they write in the conclusions of what probably constitutes the first scientific research carried out in this sector in Montreal.

Researchers conducted interviews with warehouse workers at these two companies to draw up this portrait.

In both Amazon and Dollarama warehouses, there is strong pressure to work quickly, but the productivity to be achieved is not defined. Workers are kept in the dark, notes researcher Yanick Noiseux. We don't know exactly how much one needs to do to be “correct”. Is it nine pallets, is it 12 pallets?

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Without clarity about productivity or expectations, workers are constantly stressed: "Have I done enough or not?", adds the sociologist from the University of Montreal. There is a [problem] of transparency, what we almost describe as harassment, a psychological harassment which means that we never know if we are doing our job well or not.

If demanding working conditions are already well documented at Amazon, those at Dollarama are less so. Among its shareholders, this company includes the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.

Unlike Amazon, Dollarama does not directly employ workers in its warehouses. This company instead uses employment agencies. Some 2,000 people work in Dollarama warehouses, according to estimates by researchers and activists. Dollarama does not want to be an employer. She wants to have labor working for her, but she does not want to manage this labor force, she does not want to be responsible for it, and we see the effects of this lack of responsibility in our results, argues sociologist Martine D'Amours.

Another particularity of Dollarama: those who work in this company's warehouses are the vast majority of people with an immigrant background, with a precarious status, such as refugees or asylum seekers. These people do not necessarily know all of their rights, the researchers point out. So, to avoid harming their immigration files, they will not file a complaint.

Given that the workforce is very vulnerable, often newcomers with precarious immigration statuses, one could say that the pool never dries up. There are always people who are hard enough to do business with an agency, which can place them with Dollarama.

A quote from Martine D'Amours, sociologist

The researchers' interviews lifted the veil on a difficult work environment. Dusty warehouses, overcrowded aisles: it’s a rather gloomy look that is given to the warehouse itself, maintains Martine D'Amours.

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Dollarama's head office is located in Montreal.

What the researchers describe is consistent with the experience of some workers. Radio-Canada was able to speak to two men who currently work in Dollarama warehouses. On condition of anonymity, they confirm that their work is demanding and that they are under constant pressure to move quickly.

One of these two employees specified that he had to work at height, without safety equipment, and that he had to be careful in the aisles, where boxes sometimes littered the ground. The other complains of back pain from lifting heavy loads.

Originally from India, these two men specify that they have never been informed of their rights as workers. Placed by an agency, they could no longer have a job at any time.

The findings of this research come as no surprise to Mostafa Henaway, a community organizer at the Immigrant Workers Center, a group that contributed to this research project. He has been working on the Dollarama file for years and has heard dozens of testimonies from workers. The new publication only supports their claims, in his opinion.

It is often said that Dollarama's warehouses are a bit like second stop for immigrants, after Immigration Quebec, says this community organizer.

With online commerce, this sector is not only growing, he notes, but also in the shadows, a sort of back room of the economy, with invisible workers.

People want things quickly and cheaply. This means that to obtain this, we must put pressure on workers so that they move goods at a lower cost. If it becomes the basis on which companies, especially in retail, compete, those who pay the price are the workers, explains Mostafa Henaway.

In a written statement, Dollarama responds that it is committed to providing an inclusive, safe and efficient work environment for all workers by applying consistent routines while constantly striving to optimize its activities and processes for improvement purposes. continues.

The company says it uses a limited number of staffing agencies to meet unique and fluctuating staffing needs of its logistics activities.

According to Dollarama, the agencies in question must respect a code of conduct, which includes, among other things, expectations regarding compliance with laws as well as health and safety standards.

Asked to react on working conditions in Amazon warehouses, the director of public relations at Amazon Canada, Ryma Boussoufa, believes that the conclusions of the report must be taken with a grain of salt. salt, since they represent only a minority of their employees in Montreal. It also calls on employees to provide feedback directly to Amazon.

In terms of workplace safety, Amazon does not establish fixed quotas in its facilities, adds the spokesperson, we prefer to evaluate performance in function of realistic expectations presenting no danger.

For researchers, one of the solutions involves a ministerial decree, which makes it possible to set minimum working conditions. A sectoral approach is needed to protect all workers in the sector, maintains Yanick Noiseux. There are jobs being created in the warehousing sector, but we are not able to create good jobs.

The warehousing sector includes giants like Amazon or Dollarama, but there are also other smaller companies with around a hundred employees, according to Martine D’Amours. And we cannot believe that the working conditions [there] are significantly better, maintains the researcher.

The authors of the report would also like that Quebec documents the effects of productivity standards in the sector.

Dollarama counts among its shareholders the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. Questioned on this subject, the Caisse affirms that compliance with standards regarding working conditions by portfolio companies is an important concern.

D' after the Caisse, Dollarama was open and receptive to the Caisse's comments and demonstrated a desire to evolve its practices. The Fund says it intends to maintain support in this sense.

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