Strengthening Participatory Approaches to the Enforcement of Employment Standards in Ontario

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Guliz AKKAYMAK, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Shelley CONDRATTO, Laurentian University, Canada
Kiran MIRCHANDANI, University of Toronto, Canada
Urvashi SONI-SINHA, University of Windsor, Canada
Mercedes STEEDMAN, Laurentian University, Canada
Mark THOMAS, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Although the enforcement of employment standards (ES) is generally conceptualized as the responsibility of the state, in fact, a number of state-based and non-state-based actors participate at different levels in the process of ensuring that the law is adhered to. Set in the context of an ongoing crisis of ES enforcement created by a ‘mismatch’ between traditional state-directed enforcement strategies and the structure of industries where noncompliance is most problematic, this paper considers the potential for forms of participatory ES enforcement to counter conditions of precarious employment. The paper takes into account the involvement of a range of actors in the enforcement process, including government agencies and representatives, workers, and community groups. Forms of participation in ES enforcement–particularly those that involve non-state actors–are considered in terms of their capacity to create alternatives to both individualized complaint-based enforcement mechanisms that fail to counter the inherently unequal power relations of the employment relationship and ‘top-down’ enforcement strategies of state regulators that accord workers a passive role in the enforcement process. Based on research conducted on ES enforcement in the province of Ontario, Canada, the paper outlines forms of participation in the enforcement process, beginning with ways in which the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) both shapes and participates in the enforcement process. The primary form of worker participation in the enforcement process–the individualized complaints system–is also examined, with a focus placed on the factors that mitigate against meaningful worker participation. Using examples from Sudbury, Windsor, and Toronto, forms of participatory enforcement that involve community organizations acting in support of workers are then considered, highlighting methods of participation including advocacy, legal assistance, labour rights education, assistance with claims, and community organizing. The paper concludes by assessing the potential for a model of participatory enforcement capable of addressing the ongoing crisis of ES enforcement.