Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Precarious employment and the internal responsibility system: Some Canadian experiences

Document type Book chapter
Editor Walters, David
Author De Wolff, Alice
Author Clarke, Marlea
Author Lewchuk, Wayne
Book None
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan; Basingstoke, UK
Date 2009
ISBN 978-0-230-21485-9
Pages 1-22


Worker representatives were formally recognised as agents in regulating workplace health and safety in most Canadian jurisdictions in the late 1970s. This was one component of the transition to an Internal Responsibility System that included mandated Joint Health and Safety Committees, right to know regulations, and the right to refuse dangerous work. Very little has changed in this regulatory framework in the ensuing three decades. The effectiveness of these regulations in improving health and safety was contentious in the 1970s and continues to be debated. Earlier work by Lewchuk et al. (1996) argued that the labour-management environment of individual workplaces influenced the effectiveness of worker representatives and Joint Health and Safety Committees. In particular, the framework was more effective where labour was organised and where management had accepted a philosophy of co-management of the health and safety function. The Canadian economy has experienced significant reorganisation since the 1970s. Canadian companies in general face more intense competition because of trade deals entered into in the 1980s and 1990s. Exports represent a much larger share of GNP. Union density has fallen and changes in legislation make it more difficult to organise workers. Non-standard employment, self-employment and other forms of less permanent employment have all grown in relative importance. This chapter presents new evidence on how these changes are undermining the effectiveness of the Internal Responsibility System in Canada, with a particular focus on workers in precarious employment relationships. Data is drawn from a recent population survey of non-student workers in Ontario conducted by the authors.