Setting the Minimum: Ontario's Employment Standards in the Postwar Years, 1944-1968

Article excerpt

MINIMUM LABOUR STANDARDS are legally established standards that apply to most employers and employees, and include minimum wages, maximum hours of work, overtime, and paid time off. The regulation of minimum standards in Ontario was consolidated within the Ontario Employment Standards Act in 1968. While the provincial minimum standards of the late 19th and early 20th century have been well documented, the regulation of minimum standards during the postwar period has received little scholarly attention. This paper explores the development of minimum standards legislation in Ontario from the immediate postwar years up to the enactment of the Employment Standards Act. The paper argues that social forces both internal and external to the state pressured for the enactment of comprehensive legislation to provide some statutory protection for the most vulnerable workers in the province. However, the ways in which the state negotiated the tensions associated with providing social protection for non-unionized workers, while at the same time minimizing interference in the market, severely compromised the capacity for the legislation to provide protection for the "pockets of exploitation" they were intended for. Further, this approach to minimum standards supported and reproduced patterns of gendered and racialized segmentation within a labour market that was built around the norm of the Standard Employment Relationship, and thereby ensured standards of a secondary status for workers with the least bargaining power.

PAR DES NORMES D'EMPLOI MINIMALES on entend les normes legalement etablies qui s'appliquent a la plupart des employeurs et des employes et qui comprennent les salaires minimums, les heures de travail maximales, les heures supplementaires et les conges payes. La reglementation sur les normes minimales en Ontario a ete consolidee en 1968 par l'adoption de la Loi sur les normes d'emploi de l'Ontario. Bien que les normes minimales provinciales de la fin du 19e siecle et du debut du 20e siecle aient ete bien documentees, la reglementation des normes minimales pendant la periode d'apres-guerre n'a recu que peu d'attention de la part des specialistes. Cet article explore l'elaboration de la loi sur les normes de travail en Ontario de l'apres-guerre jusqu'a la promulgation de la loi en 1968. Il pretend que les forces sociales, internes et externes, ont exerce des pressions sur l'Etat en vu du passage d'une loi exhaustive donnant une protection statutaire a la plupart des travailleuses et travailleurs les plus vulnerables de la province. Toutefois, les facons dont l'Etat avait negocie les tensions generes par les debats politiques sur la protection sociale des ouvriers non-syndiques, meme si elles minimisent l'interference sur le marche, ont sape severement la capacite de la loi a proteger les << poches d'exploitatiom >> auxquelles elie s'adressait. De plus, cette approche fondee sur des normes minimales a soutenu et reproduit des tendances a la segmentation par le genre et la race sur un marche du travail qui a ete construit autour des relations normales de travail. Elle a finalement assure une position secondaire aux travailleuses et aux travailleurs possedant le pouvoir de negociation le plus faible.

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IN 1965, AN ONTARIO DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR report entitled Labour Standards And Poverty stated that "[l]abour standards legislation attempts to deal with various aspects of poverty by raising wages, improving working conditions, and opening up employment opportunities.... [T]he legislation is widely accepted as necessary for the maintenance of minimum levels of living among low paid workers...." (1) The report was published as the Ontario provincial government was undertaking a thorough review of its existing minimum standards regime and contemplating the development of a comprehensive new labour standards code. By the mid-1960s, the government was facing growing pressure from the labour movement to enact stronger legislative protections for workers who did not have the benefit of unionization, and to legislate reduced working time in order to protect against the threat of unemployment created by technological innovation. …