The number of placement agencies to compensate for the lack of labor has quadrupled in Quebec since 2020, according to data compiled by The duty, with the consequence of pushing up labor costs for businesses and the government. As Quebec prepares to pull the rug out from under them in the health sector, an industry representative agrees: “There are too many agencies. »
Whether they are nurses, welders, mechanics or computer scientists, there are nearly 40,000 in Quebec, spread across numerous employment agencies, the number of which has continued to increase since the pandemic. There were in fact 450 in 2020; agencies have today exceeded the 2,000 mark, according to data provided by the Commission for Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST).
The income of these intermediary employers increases equally. In 2022, their turnover increased by almost 18%. The previous year, by about 23%. Canadian agencies thus earned a total of $23.1 billion in 2022 and the trend is the same in Quebec. There is revenue growth from $2.6 billion in 2020 to $3.8 billion in 2022.
Placing employees in companies on the left or right has become so lucrative that a Blainville company, Premier Health of America, is even listed on the stock exchange.
“There are too many agencies,” concedes Patrice Lapointe, president of the Association of Private Companies of Nursing Personnel of Quebec (EPPSQ). Their multiplication “destabilizes the market”, he says, and causes an explosion in prices.
“It is not normal that a company founded in a basement is capable of having an over-the-counter contract with the health network by asking double the price of a company that responded to a call offers,” relates the second-generation agent. “Since the customer is sending me the signal that he will pay any price, I have no choice but to increase. My price makes it create a training spiral. » The demand for workers is so acute that some agencies charge more than $100 an hour for one of their nurses, he assures.
Five years after the entry into force of the new Labor Standards Act to regulate, among other things, the agency industry, the number of reports of non-compliance given to agencies by the CNESST remains low. Only 143 tickets were handed over to placement agencies, according to a compilation by Duty made from official data. For 128 of these 143 findings, the agency is simply blamed for the lack of a permit. And for the overwhelming majority of these offenses, the Labor Court has still not yet rendered a decision or sentence.
The few other infraction reports drawn up by the CNESST concern, for example, “an employee who has not received a salary at least equivalent to the minimum wage”, or even an “hourly wage […] not having been increased by 50% for any work carried out in addition to the hours of the normal work week.
However, agency work involves precariousness and dangers. The risk of suffering from “occupational injuries” while working for an employment agency increases by 3 and a half times for people exercising “a manual or mixed profession”, according to a 2023 public health document. Filling the holes in the employment market employment also weighs on mental health. Depressive symptoms affect temporary staff up to 50% more than permanent staff.
Not to mention possible financial or legal abuse. To avoid paying fines or compensation, agencies have already closed their doors by reopening them under another name, notes an Ontario study cited by Montreal Public Health. Recent immigrants also occupy twice as much space in agencies as the rest of workers in other industries.
Agencies offer the “flexibility” that the so-called rigidity of companies lacks, defend industry representatives. “It is also a need for businesses to have flexibility in terms of labor, because for many, there are fluctuations, whether in terms of production or in terms of their needs. , at the business level,” argues Marie-Pier Bédard, of the National Association of Companies in Recruitment and Placement of Personnel. “We are not just the intermediary, because we play the role of employer, outright. »
In the public health system, for example, agencies make it possible to quickly meet needs and “open floors” when the flu season begins, argues Patrice Lapointe. “I understand that you don’t want to hold a position twelve months a year for seasonal peaks. That was a reason to call the agencies. »
Far from it, Quebec wants to abolish employment agencies in the health field. They should be banned from the fall in Montreal. The rest of Quebec must follow by 2026. Many will inevitably have to close their doors. Or reinvent yourself.
This report is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.