Who Makes the Law of Work in Canada?

Author:Bowal, Peter


Canada is a large country with several levels of government and different law-making authorities. Constitutionally, Canada is a federal country, which means it is organized under two levels of government: national and provincial. It is also jointly governed by legislatures and courts. This article attempts to answer the basic question of who makes the law of work in Canada.

The use of the term "law of work" is intended to be broadly encompassing. Technically, labour law is the unionized collective dimension of work law and employment law generally refers to individual employees who are not covered by a collective agreement.

Moreover, there is an array of work-related legislation at both levels of government that regulates matters such as minimum employment standards, workers' compensation, taxation, privacy, labour relations, pensions and benefits, occupational health and safety, and human rights. When this is combined with the judge-made common law principles affecting employment relationships, we are left with the expansive conception that today is known as "the law of work".

Federal Versus Provincial Control Over Work

Where a country--such as the United Kingdom--is structured under only one level of government, the law of work is just one of the full range of subject matters for law-making by a sovereign state. So in the United Kingdom, Westminster enacts the law on every aspect of life that it chooses to regulate, and for the whole country. It delegates some local law-making authority to cities and borough councils, but all plenary power and jurisdiction is found at one national level of government.

Federalism describes countries operating under two levels of government. From the beginning, the Canada's Constitution assigned to each of these levels of government the power to legislate in respect of certain subjects. For example, the federal level might have power over national defence and the post office. The provincial or state level might have power over roads and schools. There may be some overlap or concurrent jurisdiction such as criminal law, environment and taxation.

In Canada, the law of work is definitively located in the provincial domain. Some 94% of all Canadian workers are under provincial law and jurisdiction. The remaining 6% of workers, about 900,000 in number, work for about 18,000 federally regulated industries and businesses. These include federal Crown corporations, the federal public service, and First...

To continue reading