Reseach summary - Ethnographic research on workers in vulnerable circumstances

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

Official title: Ethnographic Research on Workers in Vulnerable Circumstances

Author of report: Alasdair Stuart-Bell (Jumping Elephants)

Why this study

According to recent literature, workers in vulnerable circumstances are at greater risk of:

  • injury
  • experiencing unfairness in their work environment, and
  • violation of their labour rights

However, the Labour Program has partial information about these workers because they are less likely to file complaints. To close this information gap, this research focuses on understanding these workers’ experience when facing labour issues, including their needs and challenges. It also focuses on investigating whether the Labour Program’s website meets vulnerable workers’ information needs.

What we did

The Labour Program contracted a user experience firm, Jumping Elephants. The firm conducted ethnographic research and analysis of the Program’s website.

Jumping Elephants:

  • interviewed 29 workers and 11 representatives from non-governmental organizations that serve vulnerable populations in both federal and provincial jurisdictions. Participants included workers who experienced occupational health and safety, labour standard or industrial relations issues, and
  • conducted a comparative review of the Labour Program’s website. They analyzed websites from provincial organizations with a similar mission as the Labour Program (for example, job compensation boards, provincial boards)

What we found

Jumping Elephants shared their interview and web analysis findings in a report.

Ethnographic research

The report:

  • summarizes the barriers that vulnerable workers face. These barriers include:
    • the fear of reprisal from their employers
    • the lack of knowledge of their rights, and
    • the limited support from the community
  • explains the concept of vulnerability and describes how workers can experience it, and
  • presents practical solutions for the Labour Program on how to communicate with vulnerable workers. These solutions may:
    • help raise awareness among vulnerable workers of their rights, and
    • make sure they can exercise these rights

Website analysis

The comparative review includes recommendations to:

  • offer more online resources targeted to vulnerable workers’ needs, and
  • provide clearer guidance on what a violation is and how workers can exercise their rights

What it means

These findings suggest actions that the Labour Program may take to better support vulnerable workers experiencing issues in the following areas:

  • occupational health and safety
  • labour standard, or
  • industrial relations issues

One potential action is improving how the Labour Program communicates with workers to make them aware of their rights. This includes improving the Labour Program website.

Contact us

Labour Program, Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace Information Directorate, Research and Innovation Division.


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