By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Editor, myWestman.ca
On any statutory holiday, at any time of the day or night, I can make a few taps on my phone and buy just about anything I want. Unfortunately, I can’t do the same in person. The reason isn’t economics or the availability of staff, and it isn’t the case across the board. The reason is a jumbled mess of provincial regulations that guide which types of business can be open on holidays and which can’t.
Like the original legislation that restricted Sunday shopping, mandatory holiday closures are well-intentioned — to ensure that workers can enjoy a day of rest. Except that times have changed and exceptions were made. Some make sense, some don’t. For example, allowing restaurants, pharmacies, laundromats, boat and motor vehicle rental, repair and service shops and gas stations to open means that fewer people will find themselves stranded.
But then the law was loosened to meet our recreational desires. In addition to necessities, businesses with educational, recreational or amusement purposes are allowed to be open, as are tourism and recreational facilities, including summer resorts. The times when most people aren’t working are when we most want these businesses to be open and exceptions were made.
And then there are the questionable exceptions. For example, retailers selling only nursery stock, flowers, garden supplies and accessories can be open. As well as those selling just fresh fruit and vegetables. These are neither recreational opportunities nor necessities. How about businesses that sell liquor or cannabis? They too are allowed to be open. Finally, businesses that operate with four or fewer employees, including the owner, can be open. While municipal bylaws can allow retailers to open on Sundays and on Louis Riel Day, Victoria Day and Thanksgiving Day, businesses other than those with specific exemptions can’t be open on New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Canada Day, Labour Day or Christmas Day.
The obvious problem is that many businesses can find themselves in a position where they must be closed, while their competitors don’t: a grocery store with a pharmacy must be closed, while a pharmacy that sells grocery items can be open.
Legislation that was intended to help workers have in fact created different classes of workers. Most workers enjoy a paid day off on these statutory holidays and most people who work get paid time and a half, but that isn’t always the case. Employees who work at a gas station, hospital, hotel, restaurant, place of amusement, continuously operating business, climate-controlled agricultural business, seasonal industry (excluding construction), or as a domestic worker, can just be paid regular wages for work on the holiday, if they are provided with another day off with general holiday pay (regular wages for a day of work) within the 30 days following the holiday. In most of these fields, staff are entry-level workers, usually working at lower wages and with fewer protections. They aren’t in a strong position to get the day off and aren’t even rewarded for their work by making more money.
Not only has consumer behaviour changed — many Manitobans would like to shop on their holidays — so too has the nature of businesses themselves. Businesses are expanding into other markets and having different rules for different types of businesses no longer makes sense. It’s time to modernize our shopping laws to better reflect the reality of today’s retail climate. The convoluted laws don’t really help workers most in need of protection or the many workers who would like the opportunity to work for a higher wage on a statutory holiday. Scrapping the rules governing holidays shopping doesn’t mean that all businesses would be open — I suspect many would still close because of the higher costs — but all business would have the option to open if it’s what they and their customers want.