Accueil » 53-1 ( 1998) » Le droit du travail face à la mondialisation de l'économie

Le droit du travail face à la mondialisation de l'économie

Marie-Ange Moreau et Gilles Trudeau


La mondialisation de l'économie pose une menace nouvelle sur le droit du travail. Cette menace se manifeste tant à l'endroit des mécanismes juridiques dont l'effectivité est conditionnée par les limites territoriales nationales qu'à l'égard de l'équilibre des pouvoirs qui est recherché entre les acteurs sociaux dans l'élaboration des règles juridiques. Analysant l'évolution des institutions canadiennes et québécoises de droit du travail et puisant dans l'expérience européenne et française, cet article démontre que le droit du travail n'est pas sans moyen pour réagir et s'adapter à un environnement plus mondialisé. Cette adaptation, tant sur le plan juridique, national, qu'international, est toutefois tributaire d'une volonté politique de la favoriser et de la capacité de l'acteur syndical de l'induire et de la soutenir. C'est là que la mondialisation de l'économie risque de produire ses effets les plus pervers.


Labour Law in the Context of the Globalization of the Economy

The globalization of the economy, defined as a sharp increase in the international mobility of investment, capital, production, goods and services, poses a serious threat to the development of national labour laws and, more generally, to labour law. This articles first reviews the threats and challenges that globalization creates for labour law, using Canadian and Quebec labour laws as a point of reference. In the second part, it is demonstrated that labour law is not completely powerless in the context of globalization. Examples drawn from Canada, as well as from European and French labour law, show that state regulation and labour institutions can to some degree counter the problems created by globalization. In this respect, resorting to international labour law and institutions becomes imperative and should be an element of any state's strategy towards globalization. Labour law is taken to be the expression of the state's responsibility to protect workers and define or maintain acceptable and decent working conditions. In the Canadian post-World War II regime, this has been achieved mainly by encouraging collective bargaining and by enacting minimum labour standards. Labour law, like any public policy, must also be seen as the expression of the interplay of political forces and the result of the exercise of political power. The article suggests that the globalization of the economy affects these two different components of labour law. Canadian labour policy has traditionally relied on collective bargaining to define and maintain fair working conditions. Bargaining structures are highly decentralized, usually to the firm or plant level, thereby giving parties leeway to adjust to fluctuations in the economic environment. Globalization generally increases employers' bargaining power vis-à-vis unions at the bargaining table. An employer can claim with greater credibility that its business faces tighter competition. Consequently, it can ask for greater flexibility in work organization and concessions in working conditions and wages in order to improve productivity. If its demands are not met, the employer may also threaten to shift its production facilities to another country with lower working conditions. For similar reasons, globalization also increases employers' bargaining power vis-à-vis national governments. Furthermore, unions are often powerless to counteract employers' strategies associated with globalization. This shift in the balance of power raises questions about the continued efficacy of national regulatory institutions and their capacity to adjust to globalization. Thus, even though the so-called “race to the bottom” has not affected labour standards in Canada, reforms aimed at improving the effectiveness of labour law will be more difficult to achieve in this context. In Canada, the collective agreement has adapted to the new economic context. Union density has remained relatively constant over the last decade. New approaches in collective bargaining have taken root in some industries. There has been a shift from wage-related demands to a quest for more job security on the union side of the bargaining table. Employers, for their part, are looking for more labour flexibility and lower labour costs. One possible interpretation of these new trends in collective bargaining is that unions are in retreat. These new trends in collective bargaining have not been matched by changes in state policy in the field of employment and labour relations. Indeed, there has been no dramatic shift in the field of labour regulation, and this lack of change has left in place a structure of labour law that is not well-adapted to the exigencies of globalization. The French and European experience, particularly with respect to information sharing and mass layoffs, shows how national governments can respond to globalization. The changes in the economic environment and the globalization of the economy should also lead national governments to resort to supranational regulation as a mean to complement national regulation. Supranational regulation is important since it helps to level the “playing field” and permits social forces to interact at the same level as the market for capital, goods and services. In parallel with the International Labour Organization and its conventions, the inclusion of a “social clause” in international trade agreements could help to foster worker protection. Thus, the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC), one of the NAFTA “side accords”, has produced some encouraging results concerning labour regulation in North America. This analysis shows that the nation-state, if it exploits the possibilities of both national and supranational regulation, can counteract some of the adverse effects of globalization on worker protection. However, to do so, a substantial amount of political will is required. And political will is also seriously affected by globalization.


El derecho laboral frente a la mundialización de la economía

La mundialización de la economía presenta una nueva amenaza al derecho laboral. Eta amenaza se manifiesta tanto contra los mecanismos jurídicos de los cuales la efectividad esta condicionada por los limites territoriales nacionales que por el equilibrio de poderes que se busca entre los actores sociales en la elaboración de las reglas jurídicas. Analizando la evolución de las instituciones canadienses y quebequenses de derecho laboral e incluyendo la experiencia francesa y europea, este articulo demuestra que el derecho laboral no se encuentra desequipado de medios para reaccionar y adaptarse a un medio ambiente mas mundial. Esta adaptación, tanto en el plano jurídico nacional que internacional, depende de una voluntad política que la favorezca y de la capacidad de los sindicatos de promoverla y sostenerla. Es en este punto que la mundialización de la economía puede producir sus efectos los mas perversos.