Tripartite Labour Relations and Application of Minimum Labour Standards in Quebec
Véronique de Tonnancour
University of Montreal
University of Montreal
September 15, 2009
Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, Vol. 64, No. 3, 2009
Numerous studies have highlighted the existing mismatch between labour laws conceived for bipartite relations involving an employee and a single and clearly identifiable employer, and tripartite labour relations ensuing from the new modes of organizing production adopted by firms in search of flexibility. This article examines, in particular, the application of an important Quebec law, the Act respecting labour standards, to tripartite relations stemming from the use of temporary employment agencies. This Act decrees minimum working conditions related to, among others, wages, hours of work, leave or employment protection. It also sets up special mechanisms for implementing these standards, giving an important role to a specialized administrative body, the Commission des normes du travail. This study is based on the qualitative analysis of complaints filed with the Commission between 2004 and 2006 by employees from agencies, as well as on interviews conducted with the Commission’s officials.
The results reveal that the effectiveness of the Act is fairly limited in the context of tripartite labour relations. They illustrate, on the one hand, concrete problems of application which were grouped under three major types: difficulties related to the complexity inherent to tripartite relations; practices of circumventing or cheating the law; and structural weaknesses in the law. They attest, on the other hand, to the difficulties involved in processing complaints related to tripartite labour relations. Although in searching for a solution, Commission officials (inspectors-investigators and attorneys) develop application practices that are adapted to tripartite relations by seeking to involve all the parties sharing managerial power over the employee, the fact remains that, in accordance with the Commission’s mandate, many complaints end up with settlements that are, nevertheless, rarely tripartite. These application practices do not have normative scope beyond the Commission’s sphere of intervention, and cannot influence the judicial processing of disputes involving the application of labour law to tripartite relations. Therefore, legislative reforms must be considered. Such reforms are all the more necessary since the use of employees from temporary employment agencies is not a marginal and temporary phenomenon. Because of its expansion and the diversification of its offer of services, the temporary employment agency sector is a phenomenon that is likely to profoundly change the labour market.
Keywords: temporary employment agencies, minimum labour standards, tripartite labour relations, non-standard work, application of labour law
JEL Classification: J50, J58, K31
Date posted: April 12, 2010