Written by David Doorey, York University
#COVID-19 has devastated labour markets throughout the world. Governments have responded in a variety of ways to ensure that the millions of people suddenly without work have sufficient income to survive the pandemic. Less has been done to protect those “essential workers” who are expected to keep working, ranging from medical workers to grocery store clerks to cooks and delivery drivers of all sorts, and many others. Those workers are expected to report to work and assume the risks of contacting COVID-19; if they quit they may find themselves disqualified from new government benefits available for “non-essential” workers.
Once this is all over, there will be a reckoning. In labour law, scholars and policy-makers around the world will reflect upon how governments and institutions responded to the crisis. There will be a small cottage industry of publications, a new sub-branch of scholarship we might called “Labour Law in Times of Crisis” that studies the political economy of government’s legal and policy responses. Much of that literature will no doubt be critical of the response of Canadian governments, with a focus on who it failed to protect, and there will be proposals for how the law should respond when the next crisis hits.
For now, in the every changing climate within which we find ourselves, it is challenge enough just to keep up with developments. In this vein, a remarkable project that tracks the responses of governments in (so far) 40 countries to COVID-19 has been organized by Professors Beryl ter Haar, Emanuele Menegatti, Iacopo Senatori, Elena Sychenko for the Italian Labour Law e-Journal. The authors provided a template for the national reports and required that each submission be limited to 1000 words and cover both a general overview of how COVID-19 has affected the country and then a quick overview of the main governmental responses to the crisis in labour markets.
I wrote the Canadian report. You can read it here.
In the short space available, I made the point that the Canadian response has been divided between the federal and provincial governments for the principal reason that our constitution divides authority in a manner that requires cooperation. The federal government has responded primarily by providing funds to displaced workers and struggling employers, whereas the provinces have focused mostly on extending job-protected leaves of absence in an attempt to ensure that people do not lose their jobs as a result of COVID-19.
Obviously with only 1000 words, the report is primarily descriptive and at a high level of generality. It does not cover every law and by-law that has been passed across the country, and does not dive into the many criticisms that have been levelled at the governments’ responses (although I do cite in a footnote Andrew Langille’s criticism of the CERB program posted last week on this blog as an example of the sorts of criticisms we have seen). The idea is that the reports can be updated if important developments occur. If you see a mistake or believe that something crucial is missing from the story, let me know (keeping in mind that any addition will require a subtraction, so I can’t just keep adding new details).
I note lastly that the list of questions authors were asked to address included this gem: “Have the Social Partners played a role in the design of the measures, or have they been involved by the Governments in the legislative process, or do the measures provide any form of support for social dialogue?“ By “social partners” and “social dialogue” they mean formal dialogue with trade unions in the formulation and implementation of governments’ responses. Hilarious.
David Doorey, “A Global Review of Labour Market Responses to COVID-19, including Canada” Canadian Law of Work Forum (21 April 2020): https://lawofwork.ca/?p=12362