Home » 54-2 ( 1999) » Pluralité des statuts de travail et protection des droits de la personne : quel rôle pour le droit du travail ?

Pluralité des statuts de travail et protection des droits de la personne : quel rôle pour le droit du travail ?

Guylaine Vallée


Le droit du travail s'est développé dans le cadre de rapports sociaux de travail homogènes, constitués d'emplois stables, réguliers et continus, occupés par des salariés travaillant à temps plein, exécutant leur travail pour un seul employeur, sous son contrôle et sur les lieux mêmes de l'entreprise. Plusieurs des formes particulières d'emploi qui se développent sur le marché du travail ne correspondent cependant plus à cette image classique: travail autonome, travail à domicile, à temps partiel, à durée déterminée, occasionnel ou sur appel, relation tripartite de travail. Les moyens mis en œuvre en droit du travail pour assurer la protection des travailleurs sont-ils appropriés pour régir efficacement ces nouveaux statuts de travail ? Ce texte examine comment le droit du travail québécois traite des nouveaux statuts d'emploi et propose des pistes de réflexion pour adapter le droit du travail à ces caractéristiques nouvelles du marché du travail.


The title of this paper may seem surprising. After all, one of the foundations of labour law has been the introduction of a "humanist" perspective into a body of law that otherwise treats work in wholly commercial, impersonal terms. Indeed, labour law springs from the very impossibility of distinguishing the activity of work from the person who performs it. It protects this person, both with respect to the actual conditions in which the work is performed, as well as in terms of the worker's security and integrity. In this sense, one of the functions of labour law is the protection of the person, within the framework of potentially conflictual work relations between two parties of unequal strength: an employee and an employer. This protective mission developed at a time when the social relations of work were fairly homogeneous: stable, regular and continuing jobs held by employees working full time, for one employer and under that employer's control and on his premises. However, many of the particular forms of employment that are of growing importance in the labour market—self-employment; homeworking; part-time, fixed-term, occasional or on-call work; and triangular employment relationships—no longer fit this classical model. Are the tools deployed by labour law to protect workers able to effectively regulate these increasingly frequent work arrangements? To explore this question, we first examine how Quebec labour law deals with these forms of employment, and then set out a number of ideas about how labour law can be adapted to these new labour market characteristics.

We find that labour law is in fact only partly successful in protecting those who are working within non-standard forms of employment. Some of the non-standard forms of employment do not exhibit the usual indicators of subordination which is the main criterion used to identify those work situations that, being unequal, are to be covered by the standards that protect the physical, social and financial security of workers and that ensure the respect for the person of the worker. In the cases of self-employment, homeworking, outsourcing, and the use of temporary employment agencies, it is sometimes difficult to define the worker as an employee (and hence protected by the labour law), or to determine the employer (who is responsible for ensuring that the protective provisions are applied to those subordinate to him). Furthermore, some workers, even though clearly coming within the scope of labour law because of their subordinate position, will not be able to take advantage of these laws because the eligibility requirements are illadapted to jobs that are characterized by a short workweek (e.g., part-time or on-call work) or by an unstable employment relationship (e.g., fixed-term contracts, or occasional, temporary or seasonal work). Lastly, those working within non-standard forms of employment have difficulty gaining access to collective representation. Moreover, they also have difficulty achieving effective representation, considering that many collective agreements contain clauses that treat members of the same bargaining unit differently according to their employment status.

Certain amendments to the existing legislation would certainly strengthen the protection offered to these workers. This would be the case, for example, if homeworkers and economically dependent self-employed workers were brought within the coverage of labour law; if the employer's right to force a change from an employment contract to a contract for services was regulated; if a normal work day was introduced; or if the minimum length of service required to be eligible for certain benefits was changed. However, more fundamental changes must also be considered. Indeed, the spread of nonstandard forms of employment reveals the limits of a system of protection based exclusively on the condition of subordination in the framework of a bilateral employment relationship. To begin with, the concept of subordination does not include all of the forms of work that involve a relation of economic dependency giving rise to particular needs for protection. In addition, when the employment relationship does not resemble the classical bilateral model, it is not always easy to identify the employer and, hence, the party responsible for ensuring that the worker receives the protection mandated by the law.

Lastly, tying the employment relationship to a particular employer or firm prevents the recognition of the continuity of the work activity in a context of high occupational mobility. This is why labour law should aim to become a law applying to the activity of work instead of a law applying to the employment relationship. The continuity of the professional career path of an individual could be recognized either by providing for the transferability of the fringe benefits the individual acquires while working for different employers, or by creating an work activity contract. In either case, this would imply that the responsibility for applying employment standards would be shared by different firms. Furthermore, because existing models of collective representation only apply to a single employer, they are unable to ensure the continuous promotion of the interests of those workers who work for different employers, either successively or concurrently. A form of employer and worker representation based on a wider scope than the employer would help such employees secure stable collective representation. Lastly, labour law should promote a principle of equal treatment of workers irrespective of their employment status, a principle that is still not common in current Quebec labour law. This is hardly surprising in the context of a homogeneous work force, where the focus of labour law is entirely structured around the risks of exploitation that spring from the inequality of power between the employer and those who perform subordinate work, and the risks related to the irrevocably opposed interests of workers and employers that give rise to rules for regulating conflict. Alongside this unequal and conflict-ridden relationship, we are now witnessing a growing variety of characteristics, statuses and expectations of workers, a trend that is transforming the workplace into a site in which the multiple interests of a wide range of types of workers are expressed, and that is turning labour law into an instrument for arbitrating between the competing interests of workers themselves. In this context, it seems appropriate to take a long, hard look at the role that labour law can play in managing the diversity of forms of employment.


El derecho laboral se ha desarrollado en el contexto de reportes sociales sobre el trabajo homogéneo, constituidos de empleos estables, regulares y continuos, ocupados por trabajadores a tiempo completo, ejecutando sus trabajos para una sola empresa, bajo el control y en los locales de esta. Varias de las nuevas formas de trabajo en desarrollo actualmente en el mercado del trabajo no corresponden a esta imagen clàsica del trabajo : trabajo autònomo, trabajo a domicilio, trabajo a tiempo parcial, trabajo de duraciòn predeterminada, trabajo ocasional o sobre llamada, relaciòn tripartita del trabajo. Los métodos disponibles en el derecho laboral para la protecciòn de los trabajadores son realmente utiles en la protecciòn de los trabajadores en estas nuevas formas de trabajo ? Este texto examina como el derecho laboral de Québec trata con estas nuevas organizaciones del trabajo y propone pistas de réflexion para adaptar el derecho laboral a estas nuevas caracteristicas del mercado laboral.