Centering the need for workplace law

New centre of workplace law will be the first of its kind in Canada and aims to revitalize the field

The Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace will open in a few months, Academic Director Kevin Banks says.
The Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace will open in a few months, Academic Director Kevin Banks says.

Workplace law dictates everything from employment standards to minimum wage, from human rights to unionization rules.

Despite the importance of the field, it has been somewhat neglected on Canadian university campuses—until now.

Last January, Queen’s began working to establish the Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace, the first of its kind in Canada. According to Academic Director of the Centre Kevin Banks, the new Centre should be up and running within the next couple of months.

Banks said the centre will draw attention to Queen’s and build upon the law school’s prestigious reputation.

“The Centre is an organization that will allow us to conduct research on workplace law in light of the forces that are reshaping our economy and society,” he said. “It will enhance our ability to attract high caliber graduate students.

“Our dean had had a number of conversations with leading practitioners in the field about the state of labour and employment law, teaching and research,” he said. “They had essentially said to him that there is a need to revitalize this field. There is a lot going on that is driving change in workplace law.”

Over the next two years, the Centre is projected to cost $420,000.

Funding for the Centre has been made possible by a start-up grant given to Queen’s by the Law Foundation of Ontario last May.

“The Law Foundation of Ontario has given $185,000 dollars over a year and a half and the faculty of law has given us staff time and office space,” Banks said.

Banks said the Centre has four main purposes, the first of which is to create research opportunities in the field.

“We want to build a research network that will focus on a small number, say three or four important workplace issues at a time, and generate important research into problems and how to solve them,” he said.

The centre will also seek to optimize scholarship and research opportunity for graduate students in particular, Banks said.

“We want to create an environment where graduate students have access to an ongoing research program and the kind supports that make graduate study really interesting,” he said. “We want to raise money for scholarships to support graduate students. We want to give the graduate students access to the researchers who are in the network as potential advisors and allow them to give opportunities to contribute to the centre’s research program.”

Banks said the third main purpose of the Centre is to enrich the curriculum by launching a visiting speaker’s series in labour and employment law.

Lastly, the Centre will hold an annual conference series that will look at an emerging issue and generate papers about the issue that can be published, Banks said.

“[The conference series] … draws members of the bar, the practicing community [and] members of the policy community in government so that these conferences are an exciting and meaningful forum to talk about important issues of today,” he said. “And we hope to make our conferences and our visiting speaker’s series as accessible as possible using the internet.”

One unique aspect of the Centre is its accessibility to scholars across the country, Banks said, adding that the administrative office will be located in Mac-Corry.

“…The actual operation of the Centre, because the Centre works through a network, will be virtual and all across the country,” he said. “There isn’t really a need for a physical structure.”

Banks said that while the Centre is the first of its kind in the Country, there are centres located in the US which focus on workplace law.

“…The most prominent one is at Harvard Law School. It is called the Labour and Work Life program,” he said.

With the obviously limited options for workplace law, Queen’s will bring together applicants interested in the field, Banks said.

“We hope it makes a difference to invigorating the study of labour and employment law in Canada,” he said. “We are committed to independent research and independent thinking.

With files from Clare Clancy

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