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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Behind closed doors", exploring a municipal plannimg response to the growth of deregulated employment : a case study of Vancouver’s planning response to industrial homesewing Harrington, Madeline Mary


The period of economic restructuring of the 1980s has fundamentally altered the institutional, social and economic tenets of the welfare state in Canada and many other industrialized countries. One major consequence of this transformation is growing social polarization. This is largely based on the bifurcation of the labour force into a small number of so-called ‘good jobs’ (secure long-term, well paying, unionized jobs) largely in the informational economy and a much larger number of so-called ‘bad jobs’ (part-time, part-year, low paying, jobs without benefits and unionization) largely in the service and traditional industrial sectors. This is contributing to an urban environment, described by Manuel Castells as the ‘dual city’, where cities are exhibiting ever increasing signs of social polarization and a growing tendency to ignore the development interests of lower-tier workers and residents in favour of upper-end information-based workers and residents. Many of these lower-tier jobs are a form of deregulated employment whereby workers enjoy little or no employment security and work in often deregulated and isolated worksites: in rooms in homes; in garages in disguised workshops; and in barns in hidden dormitories - all hidden behind a form of a workplace ‘closed door’. Institutionally speaking, the invisibility and marginalization of these deregulated workers translates into their virtual disenfranchisement in the political arena. This, in turn, is forming the basis of an institutional ‘closed door’. As federal and provincial government regulations fail to prevent the growth of deregulated work, in what ways is there a need for municipal jurisdictions to respond to the growth of homework and to what extent are there opportunities for doing so? Vancouver can be seen as a typical case of a city that has a high degree of immigration and related industrial homework and is instructive for preparedness planning for similar jurisdictions. The city has an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 industrial homesewers. These workers are primarily ‘visible minority’ women, who work for three to four dollars an hour without Unemployment Insurance or Canada Pension Plan benefits, in their homes in often unsafe working conditions, with equipment that they have had to purchase themselves. The principle findings from a number of in-depth attitudinal and information interviews with key municipal officials and politicians within the Vancouver City government indicate that: industrial homework is, for the most part invisible to the municipal authorities; the city’s commitment to employment related issues and planning for these types of lower-tier workers is marginal; an accurate understanding of industrial homework is hindered by respondent assumptions about home-based work and attitudes towards gender and race; there are perceived and real jurisdictional, political and fiscal constraints on the city’s ability to comprehensively address employment issues; and finally, despite these constraints, there is some flexibility in the city structure to adopt measures to assist industrial homeworkers. In conclusion although the city may use its planning powers of zoning, regulation, research, liaison, advocacy, promotion and community economic development to assist homeworkers, it has taken few actions to address the issue of industrial homework. Despite the need for municipal planning and the opportunity for proactive actions to support industrial homeworkers the city is not responding to the growth of deregulated employment. This is based on shifts in planning priorities in Vancouver that are indicating that the city is tending towards: a post-welfare state city tied to an emerging agenda of fiscal constraint and a leaner role for government; an ‘entrepreneurial city’ independently acting to seek investment capital; a ‘dual city’ with growing social polarization and a propensity to support only the upper sections of its information-based labour force and little commitment to urban community economic development.

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