Reconsidering stat holidays is worthwhile effort
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It’s part of the experience of being a new Canadian: having arrived in this country and commenced working, they are provided with statutory holidays that are, for the most part, anchored to deeply embedded traditional Canadian values.
But what if stat holidays reflected the culture, language and religions of people who embrace different but still deeply personal values and traditions?
A motion that will go before city council next month would, if passed, start a process to allow civic employees to select statutory holidays that are appropriate to their cultural and religious values and traditions. This would require the province to change employment-standards law so people could take off days that are most meaningful to them.
It’s a fascinating idea, but also a very complex one. The only certainty in this discussion is that most of the stat holidays we currently enjoy do not reflect Canada’s rapidly growing diversity.
Some of the eight statutory holidays in Manitoba — days which, by law, working people must be given off or paid premium wages — are an expression of national history and identity. These include Canada Day, Thanksgiving Day and Victoria Day.
We also get days off that reflect certain global traditions, such as New Year’s Day, Christian calendar milestones including Good Friday and Christmas Day, and Labour Day. For good measure, Manitoba also celebrates Louis Riel Day in February to recognize a central figure in some of the tragic and foundational events in the creation of this province.
On top of those eight stats, many working people also get holidays on Boxing Day and Easter Monday.
However, no Canadian could deny the fact that a good many among us — particularly those of non-Christian faiths from countries with much different traditions and even calendars — are not afforded days off that are deeply connected to their culture and faith.
“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.”–Mayor Scott Gillingham
These days include, but are not limited to, Rosh Hashanah, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali and the Lunar New Year. Orthodox Ukrainians also celebrate Christmas in early January and New Year in mid-January.
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham said he supports asking the province to explore legislation to make statutory holidays more flexible.
“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,” he said.
Creating a framework to allow people to take off the days that are most meaningful to them is a logistical challenge. If a working person decided to take off a non-traditional statutory holiday, would they still get the traditional stat days off? How would employers determine who was eligible to take off non-traditional stats?
Some have suggested the solution is to create up to eight new statutory vacations so everyone can stop and learn about new cultures and traditions. Although that may seem ambitious, the fact is Canada is on the low end of the statutory holiday spectrum.
India recognizes 21 public holidays. The Philippines has 18 and China and Hong Kong have 17 public holidays. Most Australian states have 13 stat holidays, and even the U.S. has 10.
Advocates for adding stat holidays say, with evidence to back them up, that giving working people more time off improves productivity and wellness, leading to less absenteeism. It is for these reasons many countries and employers are experimenting with four-day work weeks.
The civic motion deserves, at very least, more study, with an eye toward making statutory holidays in this city, province and country reflective of the changing face of the nation itself.