The stinginess goes on and on and on

“Big changes considered for Ontario workplaces,” said one headline on the CBC News Toronto web site this past February, after it had been revealed that, among other things, Ontario’s provincial government was considering raising the minimum annual holiday required by the province’s Employment Standards legislation from two weeks to three.

As far as annual holidays goes, however, what was ultimately proposed by Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s government at the end of May certainly could not be described as “big”. Even to describe the proposed changes as “modest” could be considered an exaggeration.

The Ontario government is indeed proposing to raise minimum annual holidays from two weeks to three weeks. Here’s the catch, however: it only applies to those who have worked for the same employer continuously for at least five years. Anyone with less than five years’ service could still legally be offered only two weeks per year under the proposed change.

“We have fallen behind,” Wynne said as the proposed change was revealed.

“And we don’t really feel like catching up,” she might as well have added.

Even by Canadian standards, Ontario’s “two weeks for the first five years, then three weeks” plan represents an insignificant change. Alberta, B.C., Manitoba and Quebec have all had the same conditions in their employment laws for years, while most other provinces and the federal Labour Code offer a third week after longer periods of service, ranging from three weeks after six years at the federal level to three weeks after 15 years in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ontario and P.E.I. remain the only provinces without a third-week provision.

Saskatchewan is the only province to have broken the two-week baseline. Their laws provide for three weeks annual holiday to start, rising to four weeks after 10 years.

By international standards, Ontario’s not-so-big change looks even less impressive. In 1970, signatories to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Holidays with Pay Convention each pledged to provide for annual holidays that would be “in no case . . . less than three working weeks for one year of service.” Canada, however, was never among the signatories.

The list of advanced economies offering less than three weeks (or 15 working days) per year is small, and has been shrinking in recent years. The United States provides no legal minimum. Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan each provide for seven days off. Japan and Israel are more or less on par with Canada at 10 to 12 working days. Then, that’s about it, except for a gaggle of smaller or less thoroughly developed economies.

Now, compare that to Australia. Australians first won the right to two weeks annual holiday with the Annual Holidays Act in 1945. This was raised to a three-week minimum — still unheard of in Canada outside of Saskatchewan — in 1963. That country further increased the legal minimum to four weeks in 1974.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand — a country which dislikes being compared to Australia, but I’ll do it here anyway — was a little more restrained. They won two weeks annual leave in 1944, threw in a third week 30 years later, and finally raised their legal minimum to four weeks per year in 2007.

Surely to God a modest boost from two weeks to three weeks annual holiday per year, merely meeting the ILO’s recommended rock-bottom minimum and matching what New Zealanders had from 1974 to 2007, would not make a dent in any province’s economy. It might even provide a very mild stimulus as people used the time to spend money on things that they don’t normally spend money on during the typical work day or weekend. It would be an easy and fairly equitable crowd-pleaser, too.

It was a risk that Kathleen Wynne’s nearly 14-year-old (i.e., geriatric, in political terms) Liberal government could have afforded to take. Instead, they reinforced a penurious status quo, only a little bit more generous than Japan’s legendarily limited allowances — although even Japan has slowly started to come around to the idea of taking holidays in the face of a persistent economic and quality-of-life malaise.

Meanwhile in Canada, the stinginess on annual holiday provisions goes on and on and on.

A Sunday Shopping Compromise?

I see that the question of whether or not to loosen up Manitoba’s Sunday shopping laws is making waves once again, with the Sunday edition of the Winnipeg Sun and then Monday’s edition of Richard Cloutier Reports on CJOB giving the issue extensive coverage.

This blog argued back in August that extending Sunday shopping hours could have some negative economic side effects. Unless the added employee-hours and higher labour costs were exceeded by an even greater expansion of economic activity, the end result of expanding Sunday shopping hours would be lower retail profits and lower employee productivity — both of which would be undesirable.

However, there is a way out that could placate both would-be Sunday morning shoppers and those concerned about reduced rest-and-relaxation time.

Just look across our western border to Saskatchewan.

While Manitobans are allowed two weeks’ annual vacation per year — the same minimum required in the Canada Labour Code and the labour laws of eight other provinces — Saskatchewan residents  get three weeks’ annual vacation per year.

It doesn’t seem to have hurt their economy one bit. Nor has it hurt Australia’s economy, which also dodged the recession in spite of labour laws that require Australian employees to be offered at least four weeks’ paid vacation per year.

Bringing Manitobans up to par with their Saskatchewan neighbours by giving them an extra week off would help offset any productivity loss caused by longer Sunday shopping hours.

Instead of spreading the same amount of buying and selling (or perhaps a negligible amount more) across more hours — which is a productivity killer — the goal would be to make up for the extra Sunday morning working hours by eliminating hours elsewhere and getting rid of some of the slack.

It would also be a crowd-pleaser — and a potential vote-getter for a provincial government which will be asking for a rare fourth term in the 2011 election.

Labour Day Quiz

Happy Labour Day! I hope everyone is enjoying a day of rest and perhaps planning to get out and enjoy some of the fine weather we’re expecting here in Winnipeg today.

Here’s a little Labour Day Quiz I put together. There are no prizes involved here. Have a go at each of the following 12 questions about Labour Day and what the province’s labour legislation means for you. Answers are at the bottom of the page.

1. Labour Day first became a public holiday in Canada in…

a.) 1881

b.) 1894

c.) 1925

2. In 1872, a protest was held in Toronto to demand legislation that would set a limit on how long the work week could be. These protesters wanted…

a.) a 52-hour work week

b.) a 58-hour work week

c.) a 62-hour work week

3. In Ottawa, the 1872 protest was…

a.) called a conspiracy by both the Liberals and the Conservatives, but led to a repeal of some laws against union activity under pressure from left-wing MPs the following year

b.) called a conspiracy by George Brown, the de facto leader of the Liberal Party at the time pending the selection of a new leader, but led to a repeal of some laws against union activity by the Conservatives the following year

c.) called a conspiracy by Conservative prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, but led to a repeal of some laws against union activity by the Liberals the following year

4. Currently, the minimum wage in Manitoba is…

a.) $8.20 per hour

b.) $8.70 per hour

c.) $8.75 per hour

5. Manitoba’s first minimum wage legislation was introduced…

a.) by Premier T. C. Norris’s government in 1918

b.) by Premier John Bracken’s government in 1924

c.) by Premier Duff Roblin’s government in 1959

6. In Manitoba, employees are legally entitled to…

a.) 2 weeks vacation per year

b.) 3 weeks vacation per year

c.) 4 weeks vacation per year

7. In 2005, Dr. Andrew Sharpe of the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards, one of the country’s leading experts on workforce productivity, made a presentation to the Senate Banking Committee in Ottawa. In his presentation, Sharpe suggested that…

a.) Increasing the annual vacation entitlement and number of public holidays would help improve productivity

b.) Neither increasing nor reducing the annual vacation entitlement or number of public holidays would help improve productivity

c.) Reducing the annual vacation entitlement and number of public holidays would help improve productivity

8. Manitoba’s Employment Standards Code sets the standard hours of work in Manitoba at…

a.) 40 hours per week

b.) 42 hours per week

c.) 50 hours per week

9. In Manitoba, employees must be provided with…

a.) 24 consecutive hours of rest per week

b.) One full calendar day of rest per week

c.) 36 consecutive hours of rest per week

10. In Manitoba, the law requires that…

a.) any employee expected to work more than four hours must receive a break of at least 15 minutes for every four hours worked or portion thereof

b.) employees who are scheduled to work for more than four hours must receive at least five minutes of break time for every 90 minutes of duty time

c.) no employee be required to work for more than five hours without a break

11. An employee who quits his or her job must give the employer…

a.) 1-2 weeks notice, depending on how long they have worked there

b.) 1-4 weeks notice, depending on their occupation

c.) 1-2 weeks notice, depending on which industry they work in

12. In 2006, the average Manitoba employee…

a.) Worked longer hours than his or her British counterpart, but fewer hours than the average American employee

b.) Worked longer hours than the average British or American employee

c.) Worked fewer hours than the average British or American employee

SCROLL DOWN FOR THE ANSWERS

(no cheating!)

The Answers:

1. b.) Labour Day first became a public holiday in Canada in 1894

2. b.) In 1872, a protest was held in Toronto to demand legislation that would set a limit on how long the work week could be. These protesters wanted a 58-hour work week.

3. b.) In Ottawa, the 1872 protest was called a conspiracy by George Brown, the de facto leader of the Liberal Party at the time pending the selection of a new leader, but led to a repeal of some laws against union activity by the Conservatives the following year. (Note that there weren’t really any left-wing MPs at the time due to repressive laws and massive corruption in the electoral system.)

4. c.) Currently, the minimum wage in Manitoba is $8.75 per hour (effective May 1, 2009)

5. a.) Manitoba’s first minimum wage legislation was introduced by Premier T. C. Norris’s government in 1918

6. a.) In Manitoba, employees are legally entitled to two weeks vacation per year (three weeks after five years of employment)

7. a.) In 2005, Dr. Andrew Sharpe of the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards, one of the country’s leading experts on workforce productivity, made a presentation to the Senate Banking Committee in Ottawa. In his presentation, Sharpe suggested that increasing the annual vacation entitlement and the number of public holidays would help improve productivity. The rationale was that this would encourage better use of working time during the rest of the year, and that a less tired workforce is a more productive workforce.

8. a.) Manitoba’s Employment Standards Code sets the standard hours of work in Manitoba at 40 hours per week

9. a.) In Manitoba, employees must be provided with 24 consecutive hours of rest per week

10. c.) In Manitoba, the law requires that no employee be required to work for more than five hours without a break

11. a.) An employee who quits his or her job must give the employer 1-2 weeks notice, depending on how long they have worked there. Specifically, one weeks’ notice during the first year, and two weeks’ notice thereafter.

12. b.) In 2006, the average Manitoba employee (1,716 hours) worked longer hours than the average British (1,670 hours) or American employee (1,705 hours).

Increasing vacation time could bring benefits

Today is the day that Florida congressman Rep. Alan Grayson is supposed to introduce a bill that would give Americans working for companies with 100 employees or more a legal minimum of (wait for it…) one week paid vacation per year.

The United States is a rarity among industrialized nations in that its labour laws make no provision for a minimum amount of annual vacation.

By comparison, federal law in Canada mandates a minimum of two weeks per year, as does provincial law in nine of the ten provinces. (The exception being Saskatchewan, which has a three-week minimum.)

And even that is a very conservative amount compared to the rest of the English-speaking world. Australia, Britain, Ireland and New Zealand all mandate a minimum of four weeks paid vacation per year.

And if you thought that increasing the two-week minimum here in Canada would come at a loss of productivity, think again.

In May 2005, Dr. Andrew Sharpe of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, one of the country’s leading experts on productivity growth, suggested to the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce that increasing vacation time might be beneficial:

…[A]ctions that reduce working time through longer vacations and more public holidays, whether initiated by government or through collective or individual workplace bargaining, can have two positive effects. First, such policies contribute to economic well-being by increasing leisure. Second, while there is some output and income loss, this is offset somewhat by workers becoming more productive on an hourly basis, the true measure of productivity.

Abuse shouldn’t be “all in a day’s work” for domestic workers, but too often is

Every year, thousands of migrants arrive in Canada from all over the world in search of a better life. Many of these migrants succeed in finding a level of comfort and security that they were not able to find in their homelands. But for some, the pursuit of the Canadian dream turns into a nightmare.

That is what is being alleged by Magdalene Gordo and Richelyn Tongson, who were hired in 2008 as live-in domestic workers for the Dhalla family of Mississauga, Ont. According to Gordo and Tongson, they were paid $250 per week for workdays of up to 16 hours, and they had their passports seized by their employers.

What has made the case well-known is the fact that a member of the Dhalla family happens to be a Member of Parliament — Ontario Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla.

Any accusations against the Dhalla family have yet to be proven in a court of law.

However, the publicity surrounding the case should be used to turn a spotlight on the well-being of domestic workers throughout Canada — a group of workers who are often dependent on their employers for almost every aspect of their well-being, and whose treatment is difficult to monitor without invading the privacy of the employer’s home.

Those who have left their employers often have terrible stories to tell. A survey of 755 former domestic workers conducted in the ’90s by Kalayaan and the Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers found that:

  • 90 percent had been denied time off or holidays
  • 88 percent had been threatened, insulted or shouted at
  • 62 percent had had their passports taken away from them
  • 55 percent had had wages withheld
  • 38 percent had been assaulted or physically abused
  • 35 percent were subjected to house detention
  • 17 percent had routinely worked 16 to 20-hour days
  • 11 percent had been sexually assaulted

Their average monthly wage: the equivalent of $162.75 U.S.

Job satisfaction is a critical component of life satisfaction: it’s hard to have a good life overall when your work life is the pits. It’s even worse for someone who is in a position of dependency and left without options for dealing with the causes of their misery.

It may well be time to start doing outreach to domestic workers — such as a multilingual campaign through ethnic media to inform domestic workers of their rights. And to provide those who are abused or who witness abuses with the means by which to report these abuses anonymously for investigation.