Home » 40-3 ( 1985) » L'encadrement du travail à domicile dans l'industrie du vêtement au Québec

L'encadrement du travail à domicile dans l'industrie du vêtement au Québec

Michel Grant et Ruth Rose


Base sur une recherche réalisée en 1983, cet article examine les facteurs économiques, institutionnels, juridiques et technologiques qui ont favorise le développement du travail à domicile dans l'industrie du vêtement au Québec. Il propose des moyens pour contrôler ce type de travail.


Based on a 1983 study, this article examines the economic, institutional, legislative and technological factors which have allowed homework to develop in the garment industry in Quebec. It proposes ways in which it could be brought under control.

Historically, it can be shown that homework has disappeared and reappeared in the garment and textile industries at periodic intervals as a function firstly of the evolution of technology and secondly of the general economic climate which determines the availability of cheap, docile manpower for this kind of work. For example, the specialized, high-speed machines now used for men's garments make it unprofitable to use homework in this sector. For women's garments, on the other hand, the great variety of styles, each produced in relatively short series, makes use of an ordinary sewing machine in the home competitive with factory-based techniques. We estimate that, in 1981, there were some 30 000 homeworkers in the garment industry in Quebec, mainly in the women's and children's clothing sectors, and that the development of homework is responsible for a significant portion of the decline in measured employment observed in these sectors since 1974. Present legislation is ineffective in controlling homework.

The unstable nature of the clothing market, attributable in large measure to the absence of a long-term, overall policy on imports, has made entrepreneurs extremely hesitant to invest in modem machinery. It has also led them to seek cost-cutting measures of any kind including the use of homeworkers at below-standard wages and working conditions. The result has been not only a significant decline in the rate of unionization from 55.8% in 1976 to 45.6% in 1983 in the women's clothing sector but also an erosion of the competitive capacity of the industry by moving it into the lower-quality section of the market.

Unlike other jurisdiction, Quebec has the Collective Agreement Decrees Actin addition to minimum standards legislation and the Labour Codewhich provides for collective bargaining. The Collective Agreement Decrees Actpermits the Minister of Labour to extend certain terms of an existing collective contract to the whole of an industry (regionally or provincially). Of the 53 decrees existing in 1981, nine applied to the garment industry. Because a decree can be adapted to the particular conditions in an industry and because it requires the direct participation of unions and employers, the authors of this article are of the opinion that it offers the best possibility for controlling and eventually eliminating homework in the garment industry. Along with a coherent policy on imports and support to investment and technological innovation, it would be possible to give this industry a new lease on life.

A first requirement would be to rationalize the existing decrees in the garment industry by reducing the number from nine, some of which cover only a few hundred employees, and by bringing the uncovered sectors of the industry into one of the new larger jurisdictions. A second requirement would be to protect jobs of employees who file a complaint and to increase fines to a level sufficient to deter violations of the law.

However, the main reform necessary would be to extend the powers and rights of unions in the sectors covered by a decree. The clothing industry already constructed on the few existing experiences with voluntary multi-employer negotiations in Quebec. It would, therefore, be an ideal place in which to experiment with a new formula for multi-employer certification and bargaining. Under such a formula, if the majority of employees in a given industry are unionized, then the union would be recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent and the contract, in its entirety, would apply to ail workers in the sector. A certification election would be held on request if the union already represented at least 25% of employees. Under the new regime, the joint committee, which now administers a decree, would continue to administer the latter, to inspect workplaces and to carry out any other mandates, such as the policing of homework, which the two parties might decide to give it. It would also serve as a natural place for economic concertation. Homework will not disappear overnight at the stroke of a pen. The solutions proposed here would allow this objective to be achieved progressively by taking into consideration the particular characteristics of the industry and the need to encourage long-term investments.