When Phanath Im saw a job posting late last year for a lawyer to head up a new employment-law division at Osgoode Hall’s Jane and Finch legal clinic, she thought, I found my unicorn. By that, she meant: a once-in- a-lifetime chance to do social-justice work (her true passion) in the neighbourhood she grew up in (whose name is shorthand for crime and poverty in Toronto). Of course, she got the job. And Im, a 2012 call, has since spent the first half of this year setting up the division, which she will soon staff with student volunteers. Here, she tells Precedent why her work is so important.
Why is employment law so vital?
Work is central to our sense of self-worth. A person’s inability to work, or to work in a job that pays well enough, can destroy their pride.
Unemployment and poverty are real problems at Jane and Finch. Almost a quarter of the community is low-income. What are some of the factors that have led to this?
Many are new immigrants who don’t speak English as a first language. High-school education levels are also low. All of this makes it hard to attain a decent-paying job.
Are those in low-wage jobs at greater risk of being taken advantage of by employers?
Generally, yes — especially when they’re younger or their English is weak. They often work contract jobs and shift work with unpredictable hours. And employers will unilaterally cut hours and change schedules. They misclassify workers as independent contractors who have far fewer rights than regular employees.
How exciting is it to work at Jane and Finch?
This is where I moved when my family came to Canada from Cambodia. I have such a love affair with the community — and I think most people from there feel the same way. When you’re in a disadvantaged situation, you tend to rely on each other more. That creates a permanent bond.
This story is from our Summer 2016 issue.
Illustration by Alina Skyson