Just days after having their pandemic pay premiums cut by most major grocers, Ontario’s frontline retail workers were incensed to learn this week that they could lose six of their nine guaranteed days off per year thanks to the Ford government.
That outrage was quelled, fortunately, by Premier Doug Ford himself who rejected a proposal on Friday that would have seen the number of mandatory statutory holidays for retailers in Ontario reduced from nine to just three.
Unifor, which represents more than 315,000 private sector employees across Canada, had earlier been sounding the alarm regarding the controversial proposal.
At present, all employees in Ontario are entitled to take the following statutory holiday days off work: New Year’s Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
While those who don’t take these days off are entitled to receive stat pay at a rate of time-and-a-half, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) specifies that employees are legally entitled to take publicly holidays off unless they work in “a hospital, a continuous operation, or a hotel, motel, tourist resort, restaurant or tavern.”
Grocery stores don’t currently fall under the banner of exceptions, as supermarkets are forced to close on statutory holidays (with few exceptions) under the Retail Business Holidays Act.
Union leaders had said the provincial government was trying to change this by allowing grocers to stay open on all but Christmas, Good Friday and Canada Day.
It was all part of an apparent two-year-long pilot project meant to help businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Unifor representatives, who say they learned of the proposal on Wednesday during a “technical briefing” with the province’s Ministry of Consumer Services.
“First pay cuts, and now this. Just a few weeks ago, the Premier was calling them heroes, and now the Ontario government wants to take away statutory holidays,” said Unifor National President Jerry Diasof the proposed pilot project.
“This is completely unacceptable and no way to treat retail workers.”
Many residents of the province seem to agree with Dias, and have been expressing their viewpoints on Twitter all morning.
“So this is how Ontario rewards essential workers making little more than minimum wage? First their employers take away their pandemic pay increases and now the Ford government is taking away their statutory holidays?” wrote one outraged user.
“I urge everyone losing these statutory holidays to hold a general strike until the paid days are reinstated,” wrote another. “Oh, right! These are the most vulnerable, lowest paid people in Ontario! They can’t even afford to take a day off. I’m angry!”
As the Toronto Star points out, Toronto is exempt from the Retail Business Holidays Act as it maintains its own holiday regulations for retailers.
It is not clear if the act would have been amended to affect frontline retail workers in the city, or other municipalities with their own holiday hour by-laws.
Either way, Unifor was not pleased with the idea of taking stat holidays away from any of their members.
“This just adds to the precarity of workers and the non-guarantee of jobs in this retail sector that they have,” said Unifor’s Chris MacDonald to CP24 on Thursday.
MacDonald says the union had no reason to believe that retailers would go back to closing on all statutory holidays if they were permitted to open on some.
“Once they get used to opening on statutory holidays, we’re going to see this happen, and we’re going to see it become a permanent thing,” he said.
“The problem is this is our family time… Our members have said, including single mothers, ‘where do I get daycare on a statutory holiday? How can I take care of those things when these are the only guaranteed days that I currently have to be with my family?'”