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Attention: Anyone who worked on Remembrance Day!

You may be missing an extra day off with pay

by Judy Haiven.

Attention: Anyone who worked on Remembrance Day!

How many workers in Halifax worked a shift for regular pay on the Remembrance Day holiday? How many workers know that in addition to their straight time pay for Nov.11, they could get an extra holiday with pay? That’s a good question. Many Nova Scotians have never heard of the Remembrance Day Act – and someone should tell them.

The Remembrance Day Act is a paean to the precarious worker, or retail or service worker without a union.  The Act declares that most retail stores and services – including grocery stores, big box stores and shops in malls --  must close on Nov. 11.   Unless the workplace is covered by a collective agreement which says workers will be paid for the Remembrance Day holiday, the employer does not have to pay the employee(s) who are not at work due to the mandatory closure of the business for the holiday!

The Remembrance Day Act also states that drug stores, gas stations and the entire hospitality industry – restaurants, cafes, bars, and hotel eateries and watering holes  -- can remain open. If there is no union, workers who do work on Remembrance Day get paid straight time. But according to the Act, if a worker has worked at least 15 days in the last 30 calendar days, they are also entitled to a day off with pay either tacked on to their vacation, or another day agreed upon by the employee and the boss. But remember:  to get this ‘sweet deal’ of essentially double pay for working Nov. 11, the worker has to have worked at the job for least 15 of the last 30 days.

As we know, businesses such as service stations, drug stores, cafes, restaurants and bars rely on part-time and casual help.  Most young people in NS can barely scrape by while working at these precarious jobs. Precarious jobs are defined as those with some degree of insecurity, including part-time work, short contract work, temporary or casual jobs. Features of precarious work include low pay, few benefits, little access to training, and usually no pension plan.

In 1976, nationally, part-time workers constituted just over 12% of the labour force. In NS the proportion of part-time workers has been growing in recent years.  In April 2011, 18% of the NS labour force was working part-time – 12% higher than the national average. Three years later, in 2014, 19.3% of employed workers in Canada were working part-time.  And it’s not just young people who have precarious jobs.  Estimates are that 30% of Canadians over age 65 continue to work at their old jobs, or have had to find a new job, or are working ‘under the table’ just to get by.  With 80% of new jobs created in Canada being part-time, it’s likely seniors are falling into precarity too.

Employers in retail and the hospitality sector prefer to rely on hot and cold running workers and frequently offer them no guaranteed minimum hours or shifts.  Desperate workers are often willing to work meager shifts of even a couple of hours.  They sit by their phone waiting to be called in at the last minute for any and all available work hours. However, without the proof of the 15 days of work in the last 30, even if they work Remembrance Day, they don’t qualify for the ‘sweet deal’ of an extra day off with pay. 

The government knows that, and the employers know that.  It’s an open secret: employers who are allowed stay open, prefer to staff the Remembrance Day holiday with part-time and casual workers who don’t have the 15 days required to earn the paid day off. Instead the part-time and casual workers merely earn straight time, for hours worked on the Remembrance Day holiday- and rarely a cent more.

The Act turns a blind eye to employers who use part-time workers on Remembrance Day to avoid giving them an extra paid day off. Viewed through that lens, for workers the NS Remembrance Day Act seems like a scam.

Judy Haiven teaches in the Management Dept at the Sobey's School of Business at Saint Mary's University. She is chair of the CCPA-NS.


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