International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations

Volume 33 (2017)

Volume 33 (2017) / Issue 3

David Cabrelli, Rebecca Zahn, 'Theories of Domination and Labour Law: An Alternative Conception for Intervention?' (2017) 33 International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, Issue 3, pp. 339–364


In previous work, the authors have sought to demonstrate how a particular strand of contemporary political theory can 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 Philipp Pettit and Frank Lovett prescribes a sophisticated account of freedom and a socially just order. In the latter’s framework, social justice is secured when laws and policies are introduced to subject private social relationships characterized by dependency and an arbitrary imbalance in social power to a measure of external control. As a subset of a socially just order, the previous work of the authors sought to sketch out how nondomination theory could act as a justification for labour laws. This would conceptualize labour laws as a set of measures that are designed to achieve a degree of ‘non-domination’ in the employment relationship. Labour law achieves 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/discharge, minimum wage laws, working time controls, and collective labour and trade union rights can be perceived as measures that are consistent with a legal framework designed to secure a degree of ‘non-domination’ of the worker. In this article, the various advantages of nondomination theory as a justification for labour laws are summarized before the discussion turns to a detailed assessment of the range of objections that can be levelled at such a justificatory framework. In particular, the accusation that it is not descriptively accurate as a model, nor normatively useful as a conception for labour laws, is subjected to greater scrutiny. The article concludes with the general proposition that although Pettit’s and Lovett’s non-domination model is insufficient to act as an abstract justificatory theory for labour laws, it can act as a driver for specific labour laws; and more specifically, for a particular conception or form of labour law that promotes a distinctive set of regulatory techniques, and vision of the role and function of the central notion of the contract of employment. The primary significance of this article rests in the insight that domination-based narratives of civic republicanism have the capacity to act as a bridge between existing individual, relational, autonomous, substantive and procedural accounts of the regulation of the law of the contract of employment and political philosophy: a ‘new normativity’, albeit one that is restricted in scope.

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ISSN: 0952-617X
ID: IJCL2017015