Theories of domination and labour law : an alternative conception for intervention?

Cabrelli, David and Zahn, Rebecca (2017) Theories of domination and labour law : an alternative conception for intervention? International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, 33 (3). 339–364. ISSN 0952-617X (

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In previous work, the authors sought to demonstrate how a particular strand of political theory could be usefully adopted to shed valuable light on labour law. In short, the conception of ‘non-domination’ grounded in contemporary civic republican political philosophy and associated with scholars such as Philip Pettit and Frank Lovett lays down sophisticated accounts of (i) freedom and (ii) a socially just order. In this framework, (i) freedom, according to Pettit, and (ii) social justice, in Lovett’s version of this theory, is secured when laws and policies are introduced to subject private social relationships characterised by dependency and an arbitrary imbalance in social power to a measure of effective external controls. As a subset of a socially just order, the previous work of the authors sought to sketch out how Lovett’s incarnation of non-domination theory had the potential to act as a coherent justification for labour laws. This conception would regard labour laws as a set of measures that are designed to achieve a degree of ‘non-domination’ in the employment relationship. Labour law could achieve this by introducing legal and policy controls limiting the employee’s dependence on his/her employer and restricting the arbitrary power imbalance inherent in the relationship between the employer and the employee. By serving to tone down the level of arbitrary decision-making vested in the employer, the dependency of the employee on the employer, and/or by counterbalancing the degree of power wielded by the employer, it was argued that procedural and substantive labour laws such as unfair dismissal, minimum wage laws, working time controls, and collective labour and trade union rights could well be perceived as measures that are consistent with a legal framework designed to secure a degree of ‘non-domination’ of the worker.