KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – As I sit in my front window in the falling light of on Xmas Eve, I notice the crush of rush hour Metro Transit buses chug up and down Morris Street.
Almost all of the buses are empty or have a handful of passengers.
Why is it that Metro Transit runs a full rush hour service on Xmas Eve? You would think most people are off work, and the rest would already be home by 5 pm.
Sure, if you’re a teacher, a professor, a civil servant, a library worker, a construction worker, it’s likely you had the day off, or at least you were off since noon.
But if you work in a restaurant, a bar, a hotel, in retail, at a gas station, as a cleaner – you are probably working till 5 or 6 pm Christmas Eve. These jobs pay minimum wage, $11.05 per hour, or perhaps a dollar more.
People who work these jobs can’t usually afford a car to drive to work. These are the people who ride the buses at rush hour on Christmas Eve.
The few rights at work these workers have are governed by the pitiful and outdated Nova Scotia Labour Standards Act. The Act identifies only 6 days a year as public holidays, including Christmas. According to the Act, even annual vacation can be limited to a paltry two weeks a year.
Perhaps another indignity to low paid workers is “Boxing Day.”
In Nova Scotia all stores (except for some convenience or drug stores) must be closed on Christmas Day and a day later, on Boxing Day. Though Boxing Day is a ‘retail closing day’, it is not a public holiday. That means there is no holiday pay for people who can’t work on that day because their office or shop is closed.
Christmas Day is a paid holiday only if a person has worked 15 of the last 30 days. In addition, the employee has to have worked their work shift immediately before, and immediately after Christmas Day. That is another reason why low-paid workers cannot afford to take off on Christmas Eve. If they do, they will not get paid for Christmas Day.
And no matter what – in Nova Scotia, Boxing Day is a retail closing day but is an unpaid holiday. Unless you are in a union, which all but guarantees members have Christmas and Boxing Day off as paid holidays, you may get paid for the Christmas holiday but there is no pay for Boxing Day.
Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, an organization that fights discrimination, bullying and racism in the workplace. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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