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City ponders letting employees pick own stat holidays to reflect culture

The city will look at matching statutory holiday time with workers’ own cultural and religious priorities, but some warn the proposed change falls short of what’s needed.

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The city will look at matching statutory holiday time with workers’ own cultural and religious priorities, but some warn the proposed change falls short of what’s needed.

Winnipeg city council will consider asking the Manitoba government to change its employment standards code to allow employees to substitute existing statutory holidays for days that are most meaningful to them. If council approves the new motion, the city would also ask the province to consult the community, including Indigenous peoples, on other ways the code could be made more inclusive.

However, a Winnipegger who pushed the city to explore the issue said the proposed change would offer only a tiny step forward in helping people honour their own traditions.

Adding more universal stat holidays instead would provide a broad cultural education that helps combat racism, said Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, a clinical psychologist, has pushed the city to formally acknowledge key holidays from various cultures to help combat racism.

“I think there’s a massive misunderstanding on the importance of celebrating everything by everybody. While this (motion) might be a nice gesture, it does, at the heart of things, end up becoming very tokenistic,” said Abdulrehman, a clinical and consulting psychologist with the consulting firm Lead with Diversity.

He would like to see the addition of about eight to 10 more statutory holidays, citing days to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day, Rosh Hashanah, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali and the Lunar New Year, as key examples.

Allowing all people the day off to mark those occasions would help educate the public and make the city truly multicultural, while ensuring traditionally white, Eurocentric holidays aren’t given a higher priority than others, Abdulrehman said.

“I think there’s a massive misunderstanding on the importance of celebrating everything by everybody. While this (motion) might be a nice gesture, it does, at the heart of things, end up becoming very tokenistic.”–Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, clinical and consulting psychologist

“It’s the concept of building a bigger table. We can actually invite more people to the table,” he said.

While some fear adding more stat holidays would come at a hefty cost in added wages and lost productivity, Abdulrehman said research shows overworked employees can become more productive with more days off and adding new celebrations could also result in more spending, which would help the economy.

A taxpayers’ watchdog said the call for inclusion is welcome and the initial motion before council makes sense. If governments opt to add more statutory holidays, however, they must also ensure taxpayers don’t foot the bill, said Gage Haubrich, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“… If we’re looking at this plan, we need to find a way to account for cost to taxpayers because right now taxpayers can’t afford another cost…”–Gage Haubrich, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

 

“(This) looks like it could represent an increase in (human resource) costs, especially to add eight to 10 more stat holidays. People are getting paid for those days off and the work that they’re doing still needs to get done,” said Haubrich. “So, if we’re looking at this plan, we need to find a way to account for cost to taxpayers because right now taxpayers can’t afford another cost…”

Mayor Scott Gillingham says the province should explore legislation to make statutory days more flexible. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Mayor Scott Gillingham said he agrees the province should explore legislation to make statutory days more flexible. Gillingham stressed the senior government has the jurisdiction to decide what changes are made and whether that should add to existing stat days.

“I want to make sure that we are an inclusive city and an inclusive employer that recognizes people have different days that we celebrate and they are important to people in their religious expression or their cultural expression. What we have before us now is a call on the province to make it uniform… I think that would be the easiest rather than the City of Winnipeg as an employer (opting) to do something different than, let’s say, the employer down the street does,” he said.

“I want to make sure that we are an inclusive city and an inclusive employer that recognizes people have different days that we celebrate and they are important to people in their religious expression or their cultural expression.”–Winnipeg Mayor, Scott Gillingham

Markus Chambers, the chairman of council’s human rights committee, said he also supports the initial motion for more flexible stat days but further study is needed to determine the economic impact of creating additional ones.

“We recognize the impact to small businesses (of adding statutory holidays), we recognize the impact to collective bargaining agreements. But, if we truly want to be an inclusive city, this is something that we’ll have to engage in,” said Chambers.

Sherri Rollins, who also sits on the human rights committee, said she supports asking the province to consider the change as a “first step” in the matter, which warrants further attention.

Council is expected to cast a final vote on the motion next month.

A provincial government spokesperson said the province has not received a request from the city for changes to the employment standards code.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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