Work Re-organization in Canada: An Overview of Developments

The current restructuring of the Canadian economy is leading to a number of workplace changes, designed both to increase the productivity and competitiveness performance of firms and improve the work environment for employees. Workplace change is a general concept that encompasses a number of specific developments that are affecting Canadian workplaces. These developments include, but are not limited to, changes in work organization, changes in remuneration systems, increased emphasis on customer orientation and product quality, and of course technological change. This paper provides a comprehensive overview of the first aspect of workplace change, namely work organization, or more appropriately work re-organization through increased employee participation in decision-making. As well, other aspects of workplace change will at times be referred to given the close interrelationships between the different aspects of workplace change.

The paper is divided into six main sections. Part one provides a discussion of the factors behind the push for workplace re-organization in Canada, both from the perspective of the employer and the employee. Part two looks at the various types of workplace organization, from the traditional Taylorist work structures, to worker participation schemes, to self-managed work teams. The third section looks at the evidence on workplace re-organization in Canada. The fourth section discusses the attitudes of labour and business to workplace re-organization. The fifth and final part, based on both the case studies and the literature, outlines ten lessons which come out of the experience in workplace reorganization. An Appendix is included that lists Canadian workplaces identified as innovative in change.

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Labour Unions in Canada Today

In spring 1995, Bob White met with Pradeep Kumar and Bryan Downie of the School of Industrial Relations at Queen’s University for a conversation on the labour movement in Canada, where it is and where it is going, and on Bob White’s vision of the role and future of the movement.

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Worker Cooperation and Technical Change

This paper explores the relationship between worker cooperation with technical change and international competitiveness. It outlines the reasons why worker cooperation is important, how it is (and is not) obtained, and assesses the likelihood that Canadian companies can achieve it. The conclusions are not entirely pessimistic. While it is often very hard to create a cooperative attitude where there was none before, there have been some remarkable success stories. New companies are also in a position to get it right from the very beginning, and many are doing so. However, there are also some aspects of the Canadian labour market, in particular its high turnover rates, that will ultimately make worker cooperation more difficult to achieve here than in some other countries.

The paper will cover first of all some of the history and history of thought about worker cooperation. It then covers some economic concepts which are useful for the subsequent discussion. In particular, economics has a rather precise way of talking about `trust’, something that is clearly necessary for cooperation. We will then build some simple theoretical models to help understand the ways in which worker cooperation can be fostered. Finally, we will study some case histories and other data in an attempt to evaluate the models, and assess their relevance for the Canadian economy.

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Overview of Labour Law in Canada

George Adams presented this paper at the 1994 US-Mexico-Canada Conference on Labour Law and Industrial Relations in Washington, DC. According to Adams, Canada’s participation in the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation is important because it encourages us to explore our country’s labour laws at both the federal and provincial levels so that we are better equipped to confront the issues we jointly face in a global economic environment.

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Telecommuting: A Trend Towards the Hoffice

Although telecommuting – defined here as working at home using electronic communications technology linked to the employer’s central office – has been under way in Canadian organizations to varying degrees for some time, it is only in the last few years that it has been formally implemented in some Canadian companies. There is every indication that telecommuting will become much more prevalent in North America during the next ten years. Although there are many advantages for both employer and employee, there are also many potential pitfalls. Not all jobs and not all employees are suitable. Based on a study of telecommuting at Bell Canada and IBM Canada, this paper identifies the types of jobs and employees which are suitable and the advantages and disadvantages for the employer and employee. The author identifies important strategies which will help a telecommuting program to succeed.

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Business Strategies and Human Resource Policies

In this interview, IRC Senior Research Associate Mary Lou Coates talks to Lee Dyer about business strategies and human resource policies. His teaching and research interests focus on human resource strategy, human resource planning and decision making, and comprehensive employee relations. Professor Dyer has served as a consultant in the development of human resource strategies, policies, and planning processes in several major organizations and has lectured widely on a variety of human resource management topics in the US, Canada, Europe, Venezuela and Australia. He has published numerous articles, book chapters, books and monographs.

During his visit to Queen’s University to give the annual Don Wood Lecture in Industrial Relations, Professor Dyer kindly agreed to an in-depth interview to share his views on the role of human resource management in today’s business climate.

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Stressful Working Conditions and Union Dissatisfaction

This paper examines the relationship between stressful working conditions and union members’ dissatisfaction with their union. Few studies to date have examined this relationship and existing studies report contradictory findings. That is, some studies find that stressful work is associated with satisfaction with the union while other studies find either no relationship or that stressful work is associated with dissatisfaction with the union. Data were collected from 992 postal workers in Edmonton in 1983. Results suggest that the more stressful working conditions are, either objectively or subjectively, the more likely union members are to be critical of and/or dissatisfied with their union.

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Human Resources as a Source of Competitive Advantage

This paper was delivered by Lee Dyer at the 1993 Don Wood Lecture in Industrial Relations. The Don Wood Lecture in Industrial Relations was established by friends of W. Donald Wood to honour his outstanding contribution to Canadian industrial relations. Dr Wood was Director of the Industrial Relations Centre from 1960 to 1985, and the first Director of the School of Industrial Relations, established in 1983. The lecture brings to Queen’s University distinguished individuals who have made an important contribution to industrial relations in Canada or other countries.

For business it’s a tough world that’s getting tougher. The reasons are familiar enough: global competition, deregulation, finicky and tough customers, concerned and demanding stockholders, and a dizzying pace of constant change. Rare indeed is the company which has found a comfortable niche in this chaotic world.

So, the search is on for a competitive advantage, preferably one that might prove sustainable over some period of time. Business strategies are being rethought. Core competencies are being identified or, in many cases, built from scratch. Reorganization is rampant. Staid old bureaucracies are being dismantled in favour of more nimble, flexible organizational forms. New technologies and information systems are being created to harness knowledge and tie disparate organizational entities together. And, attention is turning to the human competencies and capacities it takes to bring these transformed enterprises to life.

Enter human resource strategy. Backed by a little theory, a small amount of research, and a lot of old-fashioned trial and error, many variations of such strategies are being frequently prescribed and sometimes tried in these new business environments. While there have been some real success stories, many unanswered questions remain. The key issues seem clear enough. But, there is considerable work to be done before it will be possible to make solid recommendations about employing human resources as critical success factors in the search for competitive advantage.

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Child Care: Who Should Provide?

With the increase in two earner and single parent families, the availability of good child care services has become a political, economic and social issue. Several elements are important when examining the provisions of child care: the provision of spaces, financing, quality, and responsibility for day-to-day operation. This article explores the four models of child care: the government model, the employer model, the mixed model, and the parent model.

Under the first model, the government is the total provider, responsible for all elements of child care. Under the employer model, the provision of spaces and financing are the employer’s responsibility while quality is that of the provincial government and day-to-day operation is that of a private organization. Under the mixed model, the quality is again the responsibility of the government and the operation that of a private organization; the parent, however, is responsible for finding spaces while financing is shared in some way by the three actors — government, employer, parent. The final model — the parent model — most closely resembles the current system under which the parent is responsible for finding spaces and for financing with assistance through tax credits, the government is responsible for quality, and most of the day-to-day running of facilities is done privately. Although there are many benefits to the employer model — reduced absenteeism and tardiness, parental access to good quality child care, convenient location, feelings of security — the costs are prohibitive for many employers. In the final analysis, the government model provides the most benefits to the most people.

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Job Evaluation: A Quest for Gender Neutrality

The long debated issue of gender bias in job evaluation systems has become even more important with the advent of pay equity legislation in Ontario. This statute requires the use of a gender-neutral job comparison system to identify and rectify wage discrimination in female-dominated jobs. Unfortunately, this legislation provides very little guidance as to what is meant by a gender-neutral job comparison system. This paper identifies the ingredients of a gender-neutral comparison system.

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