Workshop Abstracts

During the weekend of September 18 - 21, EMERGENCE Canada held a workshop in Vancouver, BC entitled, Work, Information Technology and Restructuring in the Canadian Context. The aim of the workshop was to bring together researchers from across Canada and around the world to discuss the future direction of the EMERGENCE Canada project, share resources and research findings and to identify potential case studies for further study.

Below are abstracts of the presentations from the workshop made by guests and co-investigators. For more information on the workshop findings, please contact us.


EMERGENCE EU: Themes and Significant Findings.
By Ursula Huws
Analytica and Working Lives Research Institute
London Metropolitan University
London, England

As the primary investigator of the EMERGENCE EU project, and co-investigator on the Canadian EMERGENCE team, Ursula Huws' presentation headed the workshop agenda.
The goal of the EMERGENCE EU project was to look at how the rise of e-work had initiated a process of spatial de-coupling vis-à-vis the division of labour and lengthening of supply chains. Although the communication links between new (source) and old (destination) economies are becoming increasingly virtual, Ursula Huws insists it is still a material world. Thus the discourse around the new 'weightless' economy can be dispelled by simply visiting a garbage dump. Similarly the assumed 'death of distance' does not reflect the fact that 40 percent of the world is rapidly being distanced or excluded from this new economy due to the unequal access to technology .

The EMERGENCE EU project was launched by Ursula Huws and her investigative team in 1999 when the liberalization of world trade decreased the costs of telecommunications, and in turn, increased the real time competition between disaggregating corporations. The speed at which this process was taking place, the lack of clear definitions, the lack of statistics, the convergence between sectors, the lack of an analytical framework and scarcity of case studies were among the many challenges the team faced. To address these problems, the aims of the EMERGENCE project were to measure the extent of e-work, identify its characteristics, identify the favoured locations, explore the dynamics of relocation as well as its constraints and implications, identify indicators for future modeling and inform regional development. To accomplish these goals, 62 case studies were sampled and 7,500 interviews in 18 countries and 15 languages were conducted. For each case study, there was a source and destination team which produced rich insights into who does what where and why in the new e-conomy. To view the statistics of the e-work publication, go to

Among the EMERGENCE EU findings, two categories of relocation emerged: a) a top-down corporate decision to centralize or disperse departments, and b) isolated measures. When choosing an outsourcer the key factors were reliability, technical expertise, existing relations, low cost, and good personal relations. The deregulation of governments was not in fact a factor in choosing an outsourcer. It was also found that a successful relocation depended on a standardized division of labour involving employee knowledge sharing. Internationally, this division of labour has proven to be very significant. In India, many PhD graduates work in call centres doing the same inscription work that unskilled women in the United States do for medical companies. However, some Indian companies are now outsourcing to Russia and Bulgaria where the costs are lower.

In terms of Canada's position in the global e-work economy, Ursula Huws found that Canada's importance lies in its relative proximity to the United States. The role of Canada is ambiguous though, in that it is both a source and destination for e-work. For example, Canadian companies do contract work for Hollywood while other Canadian companies outsource to Asian call centres. This ambiguous role may be one of the reasons behind the high density of e-work relative to other European countries. As a co-investigator for the Canadian EMERGENCE project, Ursula Huws will join Penny Gurstein in seeking to understand these issues and others in greater detail. Currently, case studies are being selected for analysis across the country and the findings will be updated on this website, so stay tuned.


Mapping Precarious Employment in the Canadian Labour Force
By Leah F. Vosko,
Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Political Science
York University
Toronto, Canada

This workshop presentation highlighted the methodological strategies Leah F. Vosko is developing along with collaborators in a five-year project involving twenty-one researchers from four Canadian universities. The research being conducted seeks to gain deeper insight into what a precarious employment relationship is, how precariousness manifests itself in the Canadian labour market, and in what ways social contexts and locations exacerbate or mitigate precarious employment.

Vosko defines precarious employment as "forms of employment often involving atypical employment contracts, limited social benefits and statutory entitlements, job insecurity, low job tenure, low wages and high risks of ill health." Based on this definition, she identifies income, earnings, social wage, regulatory protection and control, job uncertainty/contingency and work arrangements as indicators of precarious employment.

In her presentation, Vosko described four streams of research investigation that she and co-investigators are pursuing in attempt to explore the dynamics of precarious employment in a multi-dimensional fashion.

1. The Shape, Size and Location of Precarious Employment in Canada
2. Precarious Employment, Work Organization and Health
3. Labour Laws, Regulations and Policies and Precarious Employment
4. Improving Working Conditions and Association Building

In determining the shape, size and location of precarious employment in Canada, Vosko highlighted the utility of devising a mutually-exclusive typology of total employment forms. She also noted the finding (see Vosko, Zukewich and Cranford 2003) that layering dimensions of precarious employment on top of the mutually-exclusive forms of wage work yields a gendered continuum of precarious wage work, where full-time permanent wage work is least precarious and part-time temporary work is most precarious along multiple dimensions. In the future, mapping precarious employment along more dimensions with attention to location and contexts will also be critical.

In Vosko's view, in order to understand how precarious employment is linked to marginalized e-work, the relationship between occupation, forms of employment and dimensions of precarious employment must be explored

In concluding, Leah Vosko offered three possible research questions to pursue:

1. How does e-work and the use of other ICTs relate to the form and nature of employment relationships?
2. How are these relationships mediated by the social relations of race and gender?
3. How does the usage of ICTs in particular jobs relate to dimensions of precarious employment and how does social context, particularly occupation/ industry but also geography, mediate these relationships?

This research is extremely relevant today as the standard employment relationship is eroding, partly in the face of the spread of e-work. Thus, the research and methodological strategies that Leah Vosko shared with us in her presentation is not only timely, but an invaluable reference for the EMERGENCE-Canada project.


Contingent workers and instability: Case studies from New Delhi
By Kiran Mirchandani
OISE, University of Toronto
Ontario, Canada

Kiran Mirchandani's presentation on call centres and e-work in New Delhi, India shed a different light on the impacts of ICT's on workers in a 'Third World' context. An interview-based analysis of workers experiences in Indian call centres produced a perspective of the information technology industry that is a crucial component that the Canadian EMERGENCE team will be considering more in-depth.

By performing interviews outside the call centres, Mirchandani was able to get the real story of workers experiences and impressions of their work. In India, where some 500 foreign companies outsource to Indian call centres including American Express, America Online, British Airways, HSBC, Citybank, Dell Computers, GE Capital and Swiss Air, a new 'sunshine' employment sector has emerged. However, Mirchandani argues that this sunny picture has a dark side to it. Imperialist practices are being recreated through e-work by the six largest Western countries in a process Mirchandani refers to as 'globalization from above.'

The new economy can have imperialist orientations. Mirchandani claims that e-work represents a form of colonization through language and scripts where Indian workers must be trained in the various English 'dialects' so as to mask their own accents. Also, colonization is occurring through the masking of locations in which workers must maintain a degree of secrecy as to where they are geographically located to clients. This secrecy is in response to the backlash that some Westerners have expressed from the massive loss of jobs as corporations restructure and outsource to foreign, low-cost, call centres. Finally, there is colonization through time. In India, call centre workers have to work night shifts to respond to American time. Many health and social issues arise as a consequence to performing this night shift work.

At the same time, the globalization of service work may allow for new forms of resistance. In India, most call centre workers are highly educated with degrees performing extremely simple and alienating work. Indian workers locate themselves in the global arena and are aware of who gets paid what for doing the same work in other countries. Indian teleworkers have constructed the American people as knowing nothing about computers. This construction is included in the training process to prepare workers for the ignorance many Americans have toward computer systems.


Gender and Restructuring in the Canadian Call Centre Industry
By Ruth Buchanan, Faculty of Law, UBC and
Sarah Koch-Schulte, New School (USA)

In their presentation on call centres and gender, Ruth Buchanan and Sarah Koch-Schulte comment on research collected from five urban case studies in Canada: Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John, Toronto and Winnipeg. In introducing their presentation, Buchanan recognizes that in the Canadian context the delocalized and mobile call centre industry became an important factor in job creation strategies provincially between the years 1995 and 2000. Pertinent issues concerning the dynamics of firm relocation decisions and the effectiveness of provincial economic development strategies involving call centres were thus explored. The fundamental question underpinning this research is 'what long term career opportunities call centres offer employees?'

The research findings from several case studies such as Quick Courier, ABC Telemarketing and Hotels are US revealed extremely interesting and pertinent issues for the EMERGENCE Canada project. According to Buchanan's research, Quick Courier is a large company that operates in 200 countries and is head-quartered in Canada. The call centre in New Brunswick had originally employed 150 workers, and in two years had over 400 employees. The reasons Quick Courier selected New Brunswick was the availability of trained employees, and the lower labour costs. Working for $8.75 per hour, 85% of Quick Courier's employees were women.

In comparison, the ABC Telemarketing case study outsourced work to 26 call centres internationally. One such call centre located in Saint John, New Brunswick employed 175 workers for $6.50-$7.50 per hour depending on their experience. Not surprisingly, this low wage resulted in a high turnover rate in employment.

The Hotels Are US hotel chain is head-quartered in New Jersey. Started in 1995 with 100 employees, the New Brunswick office dealt with reservations. Although wages were low, Hotels Are US provided medical and dental benefits as well as $3000 of tuition funding appointed to employees attending post-secondary school. These benefits attracted students and resulted in a low turnover rate of employees.

The interview and survey data that Buchanan and Koch-Schulte collected in Canada found that 72% of call centre employees were women in 1998. Because call centres operated as either inbound customer service or outbound marketing and surveying outlets, the 'high-tech' and 'clean' discourses behind the call centre industry were unfounded. Rather than focusing on computer skills, call centre operations required employees to be skilled in sales, communications and professionalism, languages, empathy and conflict resolution while simultaneously maintaining surprising dress code standards and dealing with ongoing worker health problems related to the speed of the work. Call centre employees had the added pressures of maintaining their monitored job performance in what some would deem as the 'sweatshop' of the 1990's. Buchanan and Koch-Schulte included several policy recommendations such as recognizing the feminization of Canadian call centre work, minimizing stress problems, enhancing the skills of workers and including workers' perspectives in the decision-making process.

Part of this research has been published in a report entitled, "Gender on the Line: Technology, Restructuring and the Reorganization of Work in the Call Centre Industry," which can be found online at the Status of Women Canada website.


The Geography of Employment in Canada: Has the new economy changed everything?
By Richard Schearmur
INRS - Urbanization, Culture and Society

Dr Shearmur began his talk by briefly describing three necessary questions for the discussion of the economic geography of employment location: 1) Where do jobs locate? 2) What can communities do to attract (or retain) jobs? And 3) Why do jobs locate where they do?

He also discussed the milieu currently influencing the answers to the questions above. Among them the effects of the information economy such as the issues like the 'death of distance' whereby jobs are now able to go anywhere; the increasing importance of face-to-face contact requiring certain types of jobs require geographic agglomeration; the changing nature of job security that now makes more sense than ever to be near a large labour market.

From these questions and theory are derived a number of additional questions such as: is there evidence to suggest that the location of jobs is changing? And if so can this change be attributed to ICTs? It is these final questions that Dr. Shearmur is attempting to answer.

By reviewing the growth rates of different sectors of work separated spatially, Dr. Shearmur's goal is to determine the different growth rates in different geographic areas and correlate these different growth rates with the effect of ICTs.

According to Dr. Shearmur's findings, the fastest job growth is in the metropolitan areas, a trend that is not surprising given that this has been the case since the 1980s. Clerical employment is declining overall except in rural areas near metro regions. And despite the supposed benefits of the 'death of distance', peripheral rural areas continue to grow very slowly.

Further, Dr. Shearmur found evidence that mirrored findings elsewhere in that the high tech sector is one of the fastest growing sectors nationally, especially between 1996 and 2001. He found that this growth is highly concentrated in metro areas. However, he also found high growth levels of clerical and white collar work in rural areas near to metropolitan regions. He hypothesizes that this could be a possible indication of ework.

In terms of professional services, Dr. Shearmur's found modest growth in that sector during the 1996 to 2001 period, though he did find faster rates of growth in rural areas, especially in white collar jobs close to metro regions. He believes that this pattern is compatible with different forms of both ework and self-employment.

Overall, Dr. Shearmur's findings suggest that there is a diffusion of jobs, especially in high-order service sectors, around metropolitan areas. This pattern of diffusion is compatible with ework, especially since the data used is for place of residence (which suggests that employees are moving farther out, but maintaining a workable connection with the metro region). However, despite the so-called 'death of distance' and the observed diffusion of employment, peripheral rural areas have seen none of the benefits of ICT growth.

Nationally these trends suggest that work forces in Canada seem to be moving toward metropolitanization at the national scale coupled with greater diffusion at the regional scale, at the same time, the Canadian periphery is becoming more and more peripheral.