Trail of Broken dreams

…low-paid workers, especially new immigrants desperate for a job, should not be left to pay for Ontario's poor track record in cracking down on illegal and unethical activities in the workplace.

The Toronto Star
July 31, 2007

Trail of Broken dreams
Editorial

Every year, thousands of immigrants come to the Greater Toronto Area in search of a better way of life. But too often they fall victim to unethical businesses that prey on new and unemployed Canadians who pay good money expecting to find work that never materializes.

One such case was detailed in a series of investigative articles by Star reporter Rita Daly about Mississauga-based janitorial operation Countrywide Maintenance Systems Inc. and its myriad offshoot companies, which have left a trail of debt and broken dreams dating back to 2001. Individuals told how they had replied to an advertisement, paid up to $12,000 for a promise of steady work that never materialized and lost their investment. Countrywide companies have been sued at least 45 times since 2002, mostly with no success.

Countrywide president Thomas Morrissey runs a complex network of cleaning companies. One company declared bankruptcy in 2002 but the business continues to operate from the same office and runs the same advertisement looking for more cleaners.

Many people have complained about Countrywide to a host of federal and provincial agencies that are charged with protecting consumers, to no avail. Each dismissed their complaints as a contractual dispute beyond their purview. In order to demand an accounting of a bankrupt company's assets, the victims would have to hire a lawyer and go to court, which most cannot afford.

Such activity is widespread, which is why federal Liberal consumer affairs critic Dan McTeague is right to call for a task force of federal and provincial politicians to seek ways to close loopholes in existing bankruptcy, consumer protection and franchise laws that result in unsuspecting workers being duped by questionable operators.

It is also critical that Crown prosecutors take stronger action in fighting for workers' rights. And judges should invoke the harshest penalties on companies that break employment and franchise laws. Where laws exist to protect workers, be they temporary or part-time, from outright fraud, those laws must be strictly enforced.

Such steps are essential because low-paid workers, especially new immigrants desperate for a job, should not be left to pay for Ontario's poor track record in cracking down on illegal and unethical activities in the workplace.


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