Partnerships for Success: Employment Standards



Release Date

January 24, 2014


Leah Vosko discusses high risk precarious jobs in Ontario. Her partnership seeks to map the nature, the extent and the scope of employment standards, to increase employment standards protections and to reduce violations.

Read the transcript

What we aim to do is to map the nature, the extent, the scope of employment standards, violations that workers experience, particularly workers in precarious jobs. Our focus is Ontario, and the reason that we chose Ontario is it is Canada's most industrial, diverse and most populous province.

I would characterize precarious jobs as those involving high levels of insecurity, low wages, risks of ill health and a lack of certainty.

We're looking at the question of employment-standards enforcement through a range of angles.

We're working with community legal clinics and worker centers from across the province of Ontario that deliver services to people in precarious jobs who might experience employment-standards violations. We're working with the Ministry of Labour, which is responsible for enforcing employment standards, its employment standards officers, and then call-center operators and such.

We are also working with OPSEU, which is the union that represents these workers that are to deliver the employment-standard supports that the Ministry of Labour provides. We're working with the Law Commission of Ontario, which is concerned with legal reform in the province. And then, there are seven universities involved in the project, as well.

One of the strengths of this project is its really grounded nature. That is, we are talking to workers about their experience in precarious jobs and the kind of employment-standards enforcement problems they may face at the same time as we're talking to people that advocate with workers to ensure that they get the rights that they are entitled to—and at the same time as we're talking to, and working with, Ministry of Labour officials who are to deliver the support. And then what we're trying to do through this grounded understanding is measure the problem, measure its scope, its extent, look at it in terms of industry, look at it in terms of people’s occupations, people’s social location.

Is one’s experience of employment-standards enforcement different if one’s a woman or one’s a person of colour or one’s a recent immigrant? We have about seven or eight sites, which reflect the diversity of the province both in terms of the demographic diversity of the province but also the industrial base of the province, so that we get a real complex picture of the challenge of enforcing workers’ rights.

The project aims to foster a dialogue between theory (that is, how we see the world), methodology (how we produce our knowledge) and empirical realities (what emerges, what kind of findings emerge), with the goal of social change.

We gain knowledge that is really critical to improving society. Ontario is our case study for the moment, in any event, but we assume that it's a microcosm for looking at developments elsewhere as well.

What we want to do in this project is be able to close that gap between these rights on paper and these rights in practice, so that people can realize these rights and the people that are there to help them are enabled to support, are supported in helping people realize their rights.