Employment and Labour Conference – Promises and Paradoxes

On Friday March 5th and Saturday March 6th 2004, I attended a conference called Employment & Labour Law & Policy for the New Millennium: Promises & Paradoxes. It was hosted by Professor Judy Fudge (1) at the University Of Saskatchewan College Of Law and was supported by the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan. Professor Fudge is the present holder of the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan Chair; past holders include: Dr. Allan Blakeney; Dr. Richard Gosse; Dr. Sydney L. Harring; Professor Michael Taggart; Dr. Alan C. Cairns; Professor Julien Payne; Professor Denise RĂ©aume (2). Professor Fudge arranged the conference which was focused on a few key issues that will likely be facing employment and labour law practitioners in the coming years. As you will note, she procured speakers with expertise in numerous areas including, but not limited to: economics, industrial relations, social sciences, human rights and employment equity. This article will only briefly touch on the contents of the conference and if readers wish to procure full-text copies of the papers presented, they will be incorporated into an upcoming edition of the Saskatchewan Law Review (3).

Unfortunately, one of the scheduled speakers on Friday was unable to attend the conference due to strike-related commitments elsewhere. Andrew Jackson (4), Senior Economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, was scheduled to speak on the topic: Regulating National Labour Markets: Canada in a Comparative Context. His absence meant that speaker Richard Chaykowski (5), Professor in the School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, had to carry the weight of the opening-evening with his presentation on The Changing Structure of the Labour Market: Employment and Labour Policy Challenges.

Dr. Chaykowski spoke about how the so-called “New Economy” is becoming an old idea now. He talked about the main transformational pressures of competitive market pressures (economic globalization; rise of markets); technological change (transformation of productive systems, work arrangements, and employment relations); and changing skills and educational requirements of the labour force. His presentation included discussions on governmental policy shifts and the main drivers of change: globalization and technology. According to Dr. Chaykowski, the Human Resource Management paradigm has taken a stronger hold in the US than it has in Canada where the Labour Relations model remains paramount. Challenges facing those who wish to raise labour market standards include: ensuring the reach of labour and employment standards; ensuring balance in policy composition; mitigating economic insecurity; rethinking the broader policy architecture (how labour policy can be redesigned in order to integrate with general government policy); and ensuring equality.

The first speaker on Saturday was Rosemary Amelia Venne (6), Professor in the College of Commerce, University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Venne’s presentation was entitled A Half Century of Work: Women in the Labour Force. Filling out the pre-coffee-break segment themed Challenging Workplace Norms, was Judith Martin (7), Executive Director of the Work and Family Unit of the Saskatchewan Department of Labour. Her presentation was entitled “Workplace Flexibility”: Conditions and Considerations for Shaping Flexibility as an Effective Component of a Family-Friendly Workplace.

The after-coffee segment was dedicated to “Equity in the Workplace” and the first speaker was Beth Bilson (8), Professor in the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan. She spoke on The Ravages of Time: The Federal Pay Equity Task Force and Section 11 of the Canada Human Rights Act. Dr. Bilson is the Chair of the federal Pay Equity Task Force (9) which is due to release its report in the near future. Dr. Bilson was followed by John Hill (10), Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, speaking on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion: Employment Equity in Saskatchewan. Following Commissioner Hill’s enlightening discussion, the conference broke for lunch.

The first post-lunch segment was dedicated to Labour Policies for New Employment Norms. First to speak was Dave Broad (11), Professor in the School of Social Work, University of Regina. Dr. Broad spoke to Flexibility and Security: Employment Standards for Part-time Workers. He was followed by Karen Hughes (12), Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Sociology, University of Alberta. Dr. Hughes discussed the topic of Rethinking Policy for the “New Economy”: The Case of Self-Employed Women. The final speaker of this segment was John Godard (13), Professor in the Asper School of Management, University of Manitoba. Dr. Godard’s presentation was entitled Towards an Alternative Labour Policy Regime? The Case of the Minimum Wage. I was especially interested in Dr. Godard’s presentation because I have studied some of his earlier work while undertaking industrial relations studies through Athabasca University (he was kind enough to sign one of my books that he authored).

The second post-lunch segment was dedicated to International Norms. Peter J. Barnacle LL.B., Legal Representative of the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, presented on Promoting Labour Rights in International Financial Institutions and Trade Organizations. Mr. Barnacle was followed by Ken Norman (14), Professor in the College of Law, University of Saskatchewan, who presented an excellent paper entitled Promises to Keep: ILO Freedom of Association Principles. After five speakers in a row, both audience and presenters were ready for the final coffee-break, after which came the finale of the conference — A Debate on the Future of Labour Law and Policy in Saskatchewan. The debaters were Larry Hubich (15), President of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and Jason Clemens (16), Director of Fiscal Studies, Fraser Institute. The audience did not appear to be as receptive to the arguments of the latter speaker as to those of the former.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Employment & Labour Law & Policy for the New Millennium: Promises & Paradoxes conference and it cost me absolutely nothing to attend. I previously wrote a Voice article entitled Lectures & Events (17) in which I tried to encourage AU distance students to take advantage of events in their area. With this, I reaffirm my recommendation. There is nothing, I suggest, quite like experiencing cutting-edge ideas and theories expressed by the brightest and best in the field — whatever field is of interest to you.

(1) http://www.lcc.gc.ca/en/themes/er/tvw/fudge/biography.asp
(2) http://www.usask.ca/law/foundation.shtml
(3) http://www.usask.ca/law/history.shtml
(4) http://www.ccsd.ca/cswp/2003/papers/abstracts/jackson-sanger.htm
(5) http://www.qsilver.queensu.ca/irl/chaykowski/bio.html
(6) http://www.commerce.usask.ca/faculty/venne
(7) http://labour.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/worklife/interview05-en.cfm;
http://www.cbsc.org/sask/sbis/search/display.cfm?Code=5995&coll=SK_PROVBIS_E
(8) http://www.usask.ca/law/chairs.shtml#bilson
(9) http://www.payequityreview.gc.ca/index-e.html
(10) http://www.gov.sk.ca/shrc
(11) http://www.uregina.ca/spr/associates/broadd.html
(12) http://www.ualberta.ca/~khughes
(13) http://www.umanitoba.ca/management/faculty_bios/drjohn_godard.htm
(14) http://www.usask.ca/law/chairs.shtml#norman
(15) http://www.sfl.sk.ca/public_html
(16) http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/about/staff.asp
(17) http://www.ausu.org/voice/search/searchdisplay.php?ART=2210

Wayne E. Benedict has a varied career history and strong links to the Canadian labour movement. He is working part-time toward his Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations at AU. He is a fulltime first-year student of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. For a more detailed writer bio, see The Voice writers’ feature page under ‘About The Voice’. If you would like to send article-feedback to Wayne, he can be reached at wayneben@sasktel.net

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