Wage Boards for the 21st Century: Revisiting Sectoral Standard-Setting Mechanisms for the Workplace

18 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2019

See all articles by Sara J. Slinn

Sara J. Slinn

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: November 1, 2019


As existing labour relations and minimum standards regulatory systems have continued to struggle to ensure acceptable worker voice and workplace standards, attention has increasingly turned to whether broader-based or sectoral approaches can offer solutions. In the early 20th century, several countries established statutory systems of sector-based minimum workplace standard-setting as a response to unacceptable wages and working conditions. Key examples are the British Wages Council system, the Industrial Standards Act established in the Canadian province of Ontario, and the federal United States Fair Labor Standards Act. Although these three statutory systems arose out of broadly similar social and economic concerns, they reflect different conceptions or applications of tripartism, different perspectives on the role of voluntarism and collective representation and bargaining, and different approaches to sectoral workplace standard-setting. These systems also share important commonalities: all had roots in combatting sweated labour, characterized by fragmented and scattered workplaces and unacceptable remuneration and conditions of work, where – partly due to the characteristics of the work, workers and employers in these sectors – no voluntary collective negotiations could take root. These circumstances have clear parallels to today’s work and economy. This article examines these three systems, at the point at which each regime provided the most robust sectoral standard-setting procedure, as informative examples of a spectrum of approaches to tripartite sectoral workplace standard-setting. Out of this comparison, this article then offers some considerations for a modern approach to sectoral workplace standard-setting.

Keywords: Labor Law, Employment Law, Inequality, Minimum Standards, Collective Bargaining, Unions, Wage Boards, Wages Councils

JEL Classification: J5

Suggested Citation

Slinn, Sara, Wage Boards for the 21st Century: Revisiting Sectoral Standard-Setting Mechanisms for the Workplace (November 1, 2019). Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3488079 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3488079

Sara Slinn (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario
(416) 736-5052 (Phone)

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