Closing the Employment Standards Enforcement Gap: Improving Protections for People in Precarious Jobs is a collaborative research initiative of 16 cross-sectoral partner organizations including researchers from seven Ontario universities. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), this five-year project seeks to inform effective employment standards enforcement in Ontario.
Who we are:
We are a team of academic and community-based researchers committed to improving worker protections in Ontario. Our partners include universities, community legal clinics, a private law firm, labour unions, and the Ministry of Labour. Our team has over a decade long history of collaboration in research on precarious work . The research partnership combines expertise in the study and practice of employment standards enforcement with on-the-ground knowledge of workplace problems.
Why research employment standards enforcement?
Employment Standards (ES) set the minimum terms and conditions in areas such as wages, working time, vacations and leaves, and termination and severance of employment. In Ontario, where only 28 percent of workplaces have unions, over six million workers rely on ES as the only source of workplace protection.
Yet available research shows that ES violations are widespread, while enforcement mechanisms remain relatively weak. For example, in the late 1990s, a Labour Standards Evaluation found that 25 percent of federally regulated employers were in widespread violation of the Canada Labour Code and 50 percent were in partial violation. A more recent survey of precarious workers conducted by Workers’ Action Centre revealed that 22 percent of those surveyed reported being paid below the minimum wage of $10.25/hour and that many experienced other forms of violations, including unpaid wages and overtime pay.
In today’s labour market, where an increasing number of workers are engaged in precarious employment, our research seeks to investigate this gap between legislated standards and the enforcement of such standards in order to inform models of enforcement that strengthen protections for workers.
What are our objectives?
This partnership project has three main objectives:
- To map the nature and range of employment standards violations
- To document enforcement policies and practices such as inspections, complaints investigation, and dispute resolution, across occupational and industrial sectors
- To identify alternative models of enforcement that may be applied in Ontario and elsewhere
By doing so, we aim to inform policy and practice so that minimum legislated standards are upheld for all workers.
Methodology and Organization
The study approaches the ES enforcement gap using a multi-method and inter-disciplinary framework. It involves archival research on the history of the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s enforcement practices as well as comparative analysis of enforcement models in other jurisdictions. Researchers will undertake in-depth qualitative research investigating workers’ experiences and understandings of ES enforcement challenges. Project team members will also interview those involved in the development and administration of ES enforcement polices, and those engaged directly in the enforcement process itself. The project also entails a quantitative analysis of the type and prevalence of employment standards violations experienced by low wage workers in Ontario through a large-scale, random sample telephone survey.
Our research team is comprised of five working groups that reflect the inter-related yet distinct research themes and methods:
- Working Group 1: Historical developments and contemporary policies on employment standards enforcement
- Working Group 2: Mapping violations in precarious work: Worker and advocate perspectives
- Working Group 3: Mapping violations in precarious work through survey and statistics
- Working Group 4: Documenting current practices of enforcement
- Working Group 5: Alternative enforcement models for ES regulation
Each working group is co-led by academic and community-based researchers who have expertise in the project’s thematic focus and its methodology. Knowledge generated by each working group will be shared through our regular in-person and virtual discussions, insights from which will inform the next phase of research.
In addition, the project team is supported by an international advisory group comprised of lead researchers in the study of ES and their enforcement based in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This international team of experts provides ongoing advice and feedback throughout the project’s phases, and in particular in the development of alternative models of enforcement.