Enrico Miranda was a trim man with a kind smile who spent two decades working abroad to support his family. After 20 years of separation — Miranda in Dubai, his wife and two children in the Philippines — moving to Canada represented a simple aspiration: to finally be together.
To support that dream, Miranda would spend 10 years as a temporary employment agency worker in Toronto, about five of them at North York industrial bakery Fiera Foods. He would never have the chance to land a permanent job, to put his lengthy experience as an engineer to use, or most importantly, to see the birth of his second grandchild.
Instead, he was crushed to death by a machine as he cleaned it. He was the fifth temp agency worker to die at Fiera or one of its affiliates since 1999.
“Our dream was for our kids, our children, that’s why we are here,” says his wife Tay. “It is hard to believe, you know.”
Tay and Miranda met at Holy Angel University in the Philippines in their early 20s; she was studying business administration, he was a civil engineering student. Miranda’s first job was with the Filipino National Irrigation Authority, a job he loved but that paid poorly. So in 1988, when his first born was 3 years old, Miranda moved to Dubai to work as an engineer.
Tay was determined they would one day unite. In 2004, she came to Canada as a migrant caregiver so she could eventually sponsor Miranda and their sons Richard and Patrick. They followed her to Toronto in 2009.
“I was happy because I reached my goal,” she says. “We all lived together.”
Now, as the family prepares to take 57-year-old Miranda’s body back to Pampanga province, they are still grappling with what to tell his mother and siblings — mostly due to what they call a maddeningly slow quest for answers.
The family says the Ministry of Labour has not reached out. The police have told them Miranda’s chest was fatally crushed in the accident, but little else. Amid the confusion, the family was distraught to hear from workers that the factory didn’t stop production in the wake of his death. (When the Star arrived at the plant on the evening of the accident, employees were still on shift.)
“It’s unbelievable in a very developed and rich country,” says Miranda’s eldest son Richard.
The tragedy is harder still to process because Miranda had recently taken steps he hoped would keep him safer on the job.
Three months ago, Richard says he received a phone call from his dad, who had injured himself at Fiera. Miranda, who was working in production at the time, had fractured his ring finger using a dough mixer at the plant. He wanted to know what to do.
Richard, who now works as an accountant in Alberta, could speak from experience. Having just arrived in Toronto in 2009, Richard found a job working 16-hour days at a sausage making factory. In his first few months at the plant, he almost lost an arm after it got sucked into a machine. He submitted a workers’ compensation claim for the injury, and told his dad to do the same.
But according to Miranda, this ran counter to Fiera’s advice. Miranda told his son he was asked not to file a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claim and to instead take a break from work while continuing to punch in at the factory so he got paid. (It is illegal under Ontario law to prevent or discourage workers from reporting injuries to the board.)
“I said, that’s not the process; you should report it to the WSIB and the employer should report it first thing,” Richard recalls.
Richard doesn’t know whether his dad ever filed the claim. But he does know Miranda subsequently asked to switch to cleaning work.
“I believe that is the reason why he wanted to go to a different (department), because he thought it was less dangerous,” says Richard.
In a statement to the Star, Fiera’s general counsel David Gelbloom confirmed Miranda’s June injury but said it was “categorically false to allege that he was in any way dissuaded from reporting this injury.”
“This did not, and would not have, occurred. In fact, this minor injury was fully documented, and all appropriate steps were taken. The information on this injury remains available to the WSIB as is required of us,” Gelbloom said.
It was Miranda’s youngest son Patrick, 26, who first learned of his father’s fatal accident, after police knocked on the family’s North York apartment door on the evening of Sept. 25.
“I checked my text message. It said, ‘Mom, where are you, the police would like to talk to you,’” recalls Tay, who was at work at the time.
“My heart started … I don’t know. I started to get worried because it was the police.”
Ministry of Labour inspectors who attended the scene issued six health and safety requirements to Fiera, but the ministry refuses to say for what. This June, around the time the Star published an investigation about gaps in enforcement efforts at the factory, the ministry changed its media disclosure policy so that it no longer has to reveal documented safety infractions until a full investigation into an employer is complete. That can take at least a year.
This past Sunday, with no clarity or closure in sight, Miranda’s loved ones packed into a Dufferin St. funeral home to pay their respects to the man remembered for his generous nature, for the discipline he instilled in his sons, and for making the perfect spring roll.
Beside his casket stood a framed photo of Miranda smiling proudly in a red hat; ‘Canada’ is written above the brim.
“We have great memories here,” Tay says. “Both of my sons, they are graduates, they are professionals. My eldest has a family. And my sons have a good job.”
These were successes built on sacrifice. Miranda was never able to afford to convert his engineering credentials in Canada. He struggled to find decent work. His first temp job was a repetitive and dusty one making cardboard boxes in a factory. For a while, he installed windows and doors. Finally, around 2014, he landed at Fiera Foods.
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“He was frustrated that it was always through a temp agency,” says Richard.
Not long before he died — after years as a temp at Fiera — Miranda asked to be made permanent. But, his family says, he never received a response.
Gelbloom said it was “true that Mr. Miranda applied for a permanent position within the last month,” and had been encouraged by the company to do so. Gelbloom said his application was “being processed.”
Fiera describes itself as “one of North America’s largest suppliers of baked goods.” Its clients include Metro, Costco, Walmart and Dunkin’ Donuts (all said they planned to address the latest fatality with Fiera).
“Although our use of temporary workers is a direct result of fluctuating demand and in line with our competitors, we have also taken steps to reduce the temporary portion of our workforce and convert employees to full-time where possible,” Gelbloom said.
Richard moved to Alberta precisely because of the lack of good work here. After his injury at the Toronto sausage plant, where he thought he’d been directly hired, he found out he was actually employed through a temp agency he’d never heard of before.
“It’s a bit disappointing that the government would allow this kind of life,” he says, noting that temp agencies seem much less prevalent in Alberta. “I think there’s something wrong with the Ontario government.”
In 2017, a Star investigation there were almost 1,700 active temp agencies in the GTA alone.
Last year, the Ford government reversed recently enacted protections that would have provided more rights to temp agency workers, including mandating equal pay for temps doing the same work as a permanent employee.
Critics say a key reason companies use temp agencies is because under Ontario law, workplace accidents end up on temp agencies’ record at the WSIB — not the client company’s. Ontario’s previous Liberal government enacted legislation to change this, but failed to create the regulations necessary to enforce it before being booted from power.
The Ford government has not proceeded with the regulations either.
“The health and safety of Ontario’s workers is the chief concern of Minister (Monte) McNaughton,” said a spokesperson for the labour minister.
“While it would be too early to comment on any specific plans, we’re currently looking into the best way to address this issue.”
Advocates say legal changes are necessary to protect temp workers, who often receive less training on the job and struggle to refuse dangerous work because they can be easily fired. Workers’ compensation data previously obtained by the Star shows temp agency employees in industrial workplaces are twice as likely to get hurt on the job as their permanent counterparts.
This is the fate Miranda’s family wants to avert for others.
“At least get rid of the temp agencies, get rid of them,” Richard says of Fiera’s use of the employment agencies. “Just hire them directly. And hopefully they will invest more in their safety.”
Miranda’s loved ones are now raising money to pay for funeral expenses. Richard says Gelbloom called once to offer to pay for the cost of repatriating Miranda’s body; the family declined. Although representatives of the factory turned up at Miranda’s funeral last Sunday, his family says no one from Fiera approached them that night to offer condolences.
Gelbloom said Fiera had “repeated and meaningful contact” with the family and that employees who needed to grieve were given paid time off.
After decades abroad, Miranda’s final resting place will be his hometown, a rural region known for its rice fields and sweet longanisa.
“His siblings would like him to be buried there because that is his place,” Tay says. “I said yes, because he’s going to be happy there.”
His family will return to the Philippines together, for the first time since Richard’s 2015 wedding.
“Last time we went home we were celebrating,” he says.
“Now,” Tay says, “we are saying goodbye.”