At what cost could we break the monotony of winter?
February, though the shortest month, can seem like the longest for workers in the province.
Newfoundland and Labrador is one of only three provinces across the country to have neither a statutory holiday in February nor a plan to instate one.
Lana Payne, Atlantic Director of Unifor, a national union founded by the Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, laments the state of statutory holidays on our calendars.
“We lost a number of them during the 1990s,” she said. “We had quite a number of paid holidays at that time, now we’re down to six — one of the worst records in that regard in the country.”
Vaughn Hammond, director of provincial affairs, Newfoundland and Labrador with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), does not see the province’s schedule of statutory holidays as deficient.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that you should advocate for less or more,” he said. “Whenever one thinks about the holidays, if one wishes to bring in more statutory holidays, there’s going to be an impact on the small business owner.”
“The first is that there would be an increased labour cost because regardless of whether the business is closed, the business owner still has to pay a day’s wage or, if opening the doors, they’ll have to pay time and a half or overtime,” he said. “There’s going to be an impact on small business owners and that’s just the reality that we face.”
Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, said the cost of another paid holiday poses some questions.
“Would there be a loss of productivity in dollars and cents? I don’t know,” she said. “ Will it make up the difference to have workers who benefit from having the day off? Will they become more productive?”
“The research that we do says that workers actually become more productive if they get to spend more time with their families,” she said. “I think that having that holiday in February would be beneficial.”
Both Hammond and Shortall agreed the placement of a new holiday is important.
“The period of time between New Years Day and Good Friday is kind of long,” said Shortall. “It’s a long period of time and it’s a dour time when people are feeling kind of stressed out.”
Hammond’s focus was on the vulnerability of small businesses following the holiday season.
“There are a lot of restaurant and hospitality operations that fit within this area and it’s those that would probably see the most impact,” he said. “These are costs that they can’t incur during this time of year because, at this point, this is the slowest time of the year for them just coming off the Christmas holiday season and things start to take a low.”
Shortall said she did not see a February holiday as being a game changer for the profitability of small businesses.
“What impact does it have on small businesses when it’s closed on Jan. 1 or when it’s closed on any of the other statutory holidays?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s just a matter of working around those holidays.”
Payne cited the province’s shortage of labour and population as incentives to instate another holiday.
“We’re talking about attracting more workers to Newfoundland and Labrador and this is one of the ways you can do it,” she said. “There is, I would argue, a whole suite of policies that the province could consider in terms of making itself more friendly towards families and vacation time is certainly one of them.”
Hammond said the avenues for adaptation available to small businesses could be a possible detriment to workers, although the full effect of such a change is difficult to predict.
“Business owners would be less flexible in terms of what they could offer related to flex time or days off because there would be less room to give on granting other holidays during a month or any other time for that matter,” he said. “You may even find those (costs) to be translated into other price increases and stuff like that.”
Regardless of the investigation’s conclusions, Payne sees a review of the province’s down time as long overdue.
“The last time we had a review generally of labour standards outside of the minimum wage part of labour standards was probably 2002,” she said. “These conditions have not been reviewed in more than a decade.”