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
are abstracts of the presentations from the workshop made
by guests and co-investigators. For more information on the
workshop findings, please contact
EU: Themes and Significant Findings.
By Ursula Huws
Analytica and Working Lives Research Institute
London Metropolitan University
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
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 www.style.be.
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.
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.
Precarious Employment in the Canadian Labour Force
By Leah F. Vosko,
Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Political Science
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Leah Vosko offered three possible research questions to pursue:
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
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.
workers and instability: Case studies from New Delhi
By Kiran Mirchandani
OISE, University of Toronto
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.
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.'
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.
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
and Restructuring in the Canadian Call Centre Industry
By Ruth Buchanan, Faculty of Law, UBC and
Sarah Koch-Schulte, New School (USA)
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Geography of Employment in Canada: Has the new economy changed
By Richard Schearmur
INRS - Urbanization, Culture and Society
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.