The gift that keeps on giving to the boss: wage theft on public holidays

In my last blog here, I wrote that most people who work full-time in NS, get Good Friday as a paid holiday.  

Most businesses, retail shops, large supermarkets, factories, banks, credit unions and services must be closed.  However smaller drug stores, restaurants, bars and places that cater to tourists can remain open.  

The people who staff them are often part-time workers, desperate to make more money.  .  Usually, they’ve worked less than 15 days over the last month.  When they are asked to work on Good Friday – or any public holiday – they jump at the chance.  

If full-time (non-unionized) workers must work on Good Friday, they are entitled to double time and a half for all hours worked according to NS Labour Standards. (That is straight time pay whether they work or not; and an extra time-and-a-half for actually working on a stat holiday.) Employees who have worked fewer than 15 days in the last 30 calendar days, receive only their regular straight hourly pay for working on the statutory holiday and no holiday pay. 


Woman Ironing, by Edgar Degas (1887, French) credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

For example:  a full-time cashier who earns $15 an hour who works 8 hours on Good Friday,  earns $15 x 1.5 x 8 = $180.00 plus a regular day’s pay of $15 x 8= $120—for a total of $300.00.  A cashier who worked 1-14 days during the last month, is entitled to only straight time of $15 per hour – or $15 x 8 hrs = $120.00.  That’s a lot of money saved, and a great incentive for employers to find part-timers to staff their establishments on a statutory holiday.

Gift to Employers: foregone wages

Yesterday, when I walked into the fitness centre I frequent, I told the two students who staffed the welcome desk.  They were shocked. They were happy to work Good Friday even at straight time, but they did not know that full-time staff who worked at the gym that day were entitled to double time and a half.  

When their boss came out to the desk,  she said if a full-time staffer worked today, she would only receive time and a half.  Not true, I said.  The boss told us every full-timer was asked if they’d “like” Good Friday off – and they all said yes.  Of course — Good Friday is a paid public holiday.   But I’m sure the full-time staff had no idea they were entitled to double time and a half if they did work it.  

The boss said the centre follows Labour Standards – and management never selects people to work on holidays based on how much (or how little) the centre has to pay them.  

The boss might think she knows the rules – as do employers at drug stores, or restaurants, or bars or gas stations.  They save money when employees who worked fewer  than 15 days in the last 30 days are asked to work on a public holiday.  That is because those with fewer than 15 days at work are not entitled to double time and a half for hours worked. 

“Our employees are perfectly happy here. We value them. They are happy and don’t need a . . .”

boss at the fitness centre

The boss became furious with me; she had to stop herself from telling me to leave.  “Our employees are perfectly happy here. We value them.  They are happy and don’t need…”

What don’t they need? Better pay? Paid holidays? A union? Or they don’t need to stop  giving the gift of their foregone wages to management. 

I noticed something akin to this after New Year’s one year when I went restaurant to restaurant to bar on Spring Garden Road.  I asked staff if they had been paid for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – two statutory public holidays.  Many of them told me “I didn’t work Christmas Day so I didn’t get paid.” That’s just plain wrong. All full-time employees are entitled to a day’s pay whether they work or not.  But the same rule applies to all public stat holidays:  if the staffer worked more than 15 days in the last 30, that person is entitled to a day off with pay.  The servers I spoke to had no idea. They figured if they didn’t work, they weren’t going to be paid for those days.

What I see here is many employees are confused by the arcane and miserly NS Labour Standards Act which is among the worst in Canada. Workers often just leave their wages – and what they are owed – up to the boss.  The bosses oblige – hive off part-time workers and make them work for straight time on holidays, and give the full-timers time and a half for working when they are entitled to double time and a half.  

Author Robert Tressell around 1908. Born in Ireland, he worked as a painter and decorator in London UK.

How much money do employers save by their own ignorance of the law, or that of their employees, or by design? It’s impossible to tell for sure. But I’m sure it’s in the millions of dollars per year. In 1914, English author Robert Tressell’s semi-autobiographical novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists was published.  It’s a story about building workers who made huge profits for their employers by working for low wages.  Tressell  insisted the workers were the real philanthropists. The situation exists even today.

Featured painting at the top: Clichy, 1887 by Vincent Van Gogh (credit: Art Gallery of Ontario). To read more, see this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s