Posted: March 30th, 2022
Working Experience in the Labor Market
Labor standards cover aspects like minimum wage, overtime pay, maximum and minimum work hours, statutory holidays and parental leave. They represent an employee’s minimum labor rights — a base below which organizations aren’t allowed to go. They are essentially a collection of labor laws, which enable employees to protect personal time, have a better job-family balance, and receive a decent wage under acceptable working conditions. These standards hold significance for unionized workers as well, since they imply that the collective bargaining approach can help secure improvements above as well as beyond the minimum standards for all workers (Fairey).
Ever since the seventies, the Canadian industrial unionism has been experiencing a mounting crisis. Contrary to the post-war years of economic boom, real wage rise in Canada has undergone stagnation, combined with a union density decline in the sectors of mining, transportation and manufacturing. On the whole, the labor market has witnessed a waning of collective bargaining power, as is proven by the national trends of chronic high rate of unemployment as well as a dual, increasingly-polarized labor market with a marked gap between well-paid jobs and the growing part-time, low-paid, contract, temporary, and other types of contingent jobs. Canadian labor crisis has a partially economic root: swift diffusion of manpower, displacing and skill-cutting technologies, increased mobility of capital (typically to high repression, low wage areas), increased international competitiveness (reducing monopoly, rents maintenance, job security, and higher wages), and a movement of occupational and sectoral economic composition away from the base of industrial unionism (which is in mass manufacturing) (Wells). Furthermore, major transformations have occurred in the Canadian working class in the last century. The precise mix of skill levels, individuals, and race or ethnicity has been primarily decided by employers’ and non-owner managers’ employment and recruitment practices, with some assistance from Canadian immigration authorities (Heron). By the 19th century’s ending, economic power was predominantly in the hands of individual businessmen, business families and the limited partnerships these entrepreneurs entered into. From the twentieth century’s start, however, large organizations began dominating a majority of the sectors of Canadian economic life (Heron).
Personal Experience as a Restaurant Waitress
The restaurant and hotel sector is characterized by high turnover of employees and readily accessible casual or temporary work, attracting migrants, students, and individuals who seek financial gain in the short-term. These supply-side characteristics of the economy and labor market unite to make the Canadian restaurant/hotel industry one among the most badly organized and lowest paid of industries in the nation’s economy. My first job in Canada was as a waitress at a restaurant owned by a Canadian. As business was somewhat bad, our wages were constantly delayed. After several weeks of receiving no pay, I, along with a friend of mine, decided to quit the job. We requested her to give us our due, to which she stated that it would take a little longer. She owed me more than five hundred Canadian dollars, while she owed my friend no less than a thousand Canadian dollars. She claimed she had no money to disburse our wage. On a particular night, when we visited her to request for our money again, we encountered her husband who began yelling at us. This visit ended with my friend having a great argument with our owner’s husband, and the two of us being kicked out of their restaurant. Thus, we had to ultimately leave the place with no pay whatsoever. On many occasions, we attempted to get to the owner, with regard to our wages, but she never answered our calls. This happened for three weeks, until I was hired by a Chinese restaurant. This job kept me very busy. Further, since I had limited English speaking proficiency, I was unable to sue my previous employers, and gave up trying to acquire what they owed me. This experience of mine brings to light the severe challenges for ethnic minority, migrant individuals, whose names aren’t officially included in organizational payrolls, and who may possess limited English-language skills, in enforcing their employment rights. Seeking another job and moving on is frequently the only option for them. My new job was rather tiring as I had to do full shifts every day with a specified wage per shift. This meant that I received no overtime pay; my coworkers and I were expected to continue working until the very last client had departed (Right and Pollert).
Further, we received minimal benefits — our yearly holiday was only four weeks long. Several workers, especially the newest recruits, were unaware of how much holiday they were entitled to. One study revealed that a franchised chain sandwich shop’s cashier, employed with the company for about a year, received only two weeks of yearly paid holiday. Clearly, either its employees aren’t being provided what is legally their right or employees have scant knowledge of their rights. Several of the restaurant employees interviewed during the course of this study reported to having informal holiday arrangements. Some received absolutely no holidays, while others received less than the minimum legal entitlement. A waitress who served for many years at a cafe in central London was delighted to receive a six-week leave to visit her home country, Colombia, only to end up receiving pay for half the duration (i.e., three weeks). There are a few Chinese restaurants whose paid holidays depend on the owner (Right and Pollert). Another reason for my being treated unfairly or differently at the workplace was my nationality or ethnicity. I was commonly subjected to verbal abuse and bullying from the restaurant chefs. Further, local workers and the owner appeared to always discriminate — they verbally abused me by calling me a “bloody foreigner.” I was, at times, even racially abused by customers. I began to feel this was a routine feature of my job (Right and Pollert).
The country’s labor crisis has partially political roots, as well. It is most fundamentally rooted in governments’ declining capacity and readiness to employ Keynesian policies of macroeconomic stabilization for fostering employment. Further, it is grounded in growing social wage reductions (e.g. education, healthcare, public welfare) and a succession of attacks by the state on workers’ collective bargaining. This includes deregulation of transportation, communication, and other sectors that are highly unionized, and labor rights restrictions (including strike rights suspension, public-sector contract abrogation, and wage controls). Lastly, the Canadian labor crisis has roots in international agreement implementation (Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, North American Free Trade Agreement), enhancing transnational firms’ autonomy from regulations of the State (Wells). Skilled 19th-century workers exercised much more power compared to that realized previously in the nation. Well into the era of industrialization, craftsmen, via trade unions, contributed significantly to community affairs, politics, and particularly to their jobs. In the workplaces of Toronto, craftsmen exercised monopoly on experience and skill for dictating terms to employers in various areas. This, in modern-day parlance, accorded them a high level production control (Kealey).
This paper revealed that, though migrant and ethnic minority employees face several poor conditions suffered by most restaurant and hotel workers, there are numerous additional factors, like immigration status, informal work status in small restaurants with ethnic-minority owners, and racism and discrimination in the labor market, which contribute to relegating and retaining some migrant and ethnic minority groups of employees at the industry’s ‘bottom end’, where they face the worst working conditions, suffer exploitation, and can’t easily remedy workplace problems (Right and Pollert).
Fairey, David. ERODING WORKER PROTECTIONS. Vancouver: CCPA, 2005.
Heron, Craign. The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short History. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1996.
Kealey, Gregory. “THE HONEST WORKINGMAN AND WORKERS9 CONTROL: The Experience of Toronto Skilled Workers, 1860-1892.” 1975.
Right, Tessa and Anna Pollert. “The experiences of ethnic minority and migrant workers in hotels and restaurants: strategies and necessities.” Working Lives Research Institute (2006).
Wells, Donald M. “Origins of Canada’s Wagner model of industrial relations: the United Auto Workers in Canada and the.” 2015.
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