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Spatial transformations in work and labour movements in Canada

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10:00, Mercredi 10 Mai 2023 EDT (2 heures)

This call for papers brings together scholarship in labour geography and geographies of work and employment in Canada and abroad. The past few years have brought rapid change to geographies of work and labour. The Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath transformed labour markets and the experiences of workers in unprecedented ways: regularizing remote work, intensifying care work, and causing many to question the central role of work in their lives altogether. These changes did not occur in a vacuum but interact with pre-existing patterns in inequality, regulatory structures, and infrastructures. We invite abstracts that address questions pertaining, but not limited to, just transition, the future of work, social reproduction, gender and work, migration, labour market segmentation, work and racial justice, settler colonialism, nature-based work, and legal geographies of employment. Our aim is to bring together diverse approaches and perspectives in contemporary labour scholarship. We are particularly interested in papers that bring Labour Geography/Geographies of work into conversation with other geographical perspectives such as Indigenous geographies, legal geographies, feminist geographies or Black geographies.

1. *Work without workers: legal geographies of family farm exclusions from labour laws
Emily Reid-Musson, Research Associate, Department of Sociology, St. Francis Xavier University

Under the Canadian labour laws that govern workplace safety, wage, and other work conditions, ‘family’ workers are not covered by the law under special rules for agriculture. Among other legal exclusions, the family farm exclusion contributes to a dearth of basic work, health, and safety standards in the sector, despite the commercialization and industrialization of family farming activities. Through a focus on Alberta, Canada—where farm labour rules have only applied to agriculture since 2016—this article explores the family exclusion in relation to family farming experiences with work and risk, based on interviews with farm operators, their family
members, and farm employees in Alberta. While some participants continued to press for exemptions for farms from labour rules under the rationale that there is intrinsic safety within families, the findings also reveal how other participants have begun questioning this rationale, despite their overall support for the family farm exemption in Alberta. Using the lens of legal geography and critical perspectives on the family, we argue that the family is a significant but under-examined dynamic in the legal regimes governing farm labour and agricultural safety and health. Together, the law and dominant narratives about family farming treat farm operations as hyper-private domains, where operators have disproportionate power to dispose of their own work and the work of others how they wish. These legal geographies of hyper-privacy contribute to the indecent work conditions that characterize farm labour systems in Alberta and other jurisdictions.

2. *Migration, Delivery and Resistance by Food Couriers in Paris and Toronto
Emile Baril, PhD Candidate in Geography York University, Toronto

There has been an explosion of food delivery services over the last two years of the pandemic. Food delivery platforms compete in urban markets for clients, restaurants and workers. This paper explores migrant workers’ resistance to platformized exploitation through a case study of food delivery platforms in Toronto and Paris. This paper will seek to answer how and why couriers, often young racialized immigrant, experience the labour markets and exercise agency. This paper builds on 26 semi-structured interviews conducted in Paris and Toronto with couriers, labour organizers and representatives for traditional unions. The first part analyzes the markets for subletting accounts. The interviews conducted with sans-papiers couriers show the interdependence between them and the ‘regularized’. This acts as a life jacket for them upon arrival in Paris and Toronto. Many are in precarious housing situation and have no other choice but to rent an account. The second part discusses the 2020 strikes against the food delivery platforms Frichti and Foodora, through interviews with couriers who worked and fought for papers with the help of the CGT. This section highlights the hypocrisy of the platform who hired, exploited and released the sans-papiers workers. Finally, the third section notes connections between traditional unions and grassroots movements and the role of the French and Canadian states in creating and exploiting precariousness. The paper concludes that there is a need for integrating migrant couriers’ perspective in the study of urban labour platforms.

3. Optimizing or surviving? Revealing freelancer work identities through the spatial strategies of working from home
Dr. Nancy Worth, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo , Dr. E. Alkim Karaagac, University of Waterloo


This paper examines how work identities are revealed through work from home practices, using a case study of media freelancers in Toronto. For freelancers, work identities often shift between employer-employee; self-employment requires that an individual attend to both what’s best for the business and what’s best for the worker. This hybrid identity is naturalized, and often hard to talk about, but it emerges through the spatial strategies of working from home. We identify three scales: moving house to give more space to work or allow work to happen at home; reconfiguring home/work space, to prioritize space for work or to ensure it is comfortable; third, inhabiting home/work space to shift to ‘work mode’ through bodily practice. Our data consists of two sets of interviews, the first from before the start of the pandemic in Winter 2020 and a second set from Fall 2021. This allows us to ask how orientations to work shifted during the pandemic, including the impact of changing financial/social/emotional resources on hybrid work identities. By examining the spatial strategies that freelancers enact to make work possible at home, we open up a way to talk about work identity, offering insights on broader back to the office debates and the changing work identities of those able to work from home.

4. Landscapes of consumption or resource production? Not-working in the periphery
Suzanne Mills, Associate Professor, McMaster University, Katie Mazer, Assistant Professor, Acadia University

The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a reversal of inter-regional migration patterns in eastern Canada. The rise of remote work, shifts in personal priorities that deemphasized employment, and the high cost of living in urban areas popularized the idea of ‘moving away from work.’ After decades of population decline, resource peripheries were recast as desirable places to live, offering affordability, access to nature, a slower pace of life and ultimately, the ability to centre ‘life’ over work. Amidst accounts of how this relocation benefited individual movers, however, were reports that the migration contributed to soaring rents and stretched social services in receiving communities. Looking at this trend from the perspective of two receiving regions, Northeastern Ontario and Nova Scotia, this new project investigates how the pandemic-related ‘liberation’ from work for some reshaped economic imaginaries, livelihoods, the struggle for social reproduction across broad regional geographies. By examining how this aspiration for a life with less work plays out geographically and inter-regionally, this research places the struggle against work alongside broader processes of uneven development. In doing so, we highlight how these workers’ ability to downplay work is predicated on local histories of disinvestment and employment precarity.

5. Transnational caring in times of COVID-19: The experiences of visible minority immigrant carer-employees
Shelley Rottenberg, MA, McMaster University
Bharati Sethi, Teir II Canada Research Chair in Care Work, Ethnicity, Race and Aging, Trent University
Allison Williams, Professor, CIHR Research Chair in Gender, Work and Health, McMaster University

Globalization and immigration policies between Canada and immigrant-sending nations have heightened transnational caregiving. The research objective of this paper is to explore the experiences of visible minority immigrant transnational carer-employees (VMI TCEs) before and during the pandemic. In this study, participants reside in the mid-sized city of London, Ontario and engage in paid employment or volunteering while providing unpaid care to family members and/or friends abroad. Interviews and arts-based methodology were used to collect data from 29

VMI TCEs from 10 countries. Intersectionality theory informed thematic analysis and three themes emerged: (1) The nuances of providing transnational care, (2) The impact of geographic dislocation on care and wellbeing, and (3) Caregiving during COVID-19. Findings highlight the fluidity of transnational caregiving, in that participants both shape and are impacted by time- space dimensions. Study results may be used to inform culturally sensitive adaptions to the existing standard for organizations to be more inclusive of and accommodating to carer- employees. Findings can also inform the implementation or improvement of programs and services offered by the government, immigration resettlement agencies, employers and other stakeholders working with people who may share similar experiences to VMI TCEs. The creation of accessible and appropriate resources for this group of people will better support them in resettling outside of major urban cities in Ontario and other provinces across Canada.

Suzanne Mills

Maître.sse de cérémonie

Nancy Worth


Esra Alkim Karaagac


Emily Reid-Musson


Émile Baril


Allison Williams


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