Toronto Retail Workers Closer to Winning Back Stat Holidays

November 9, 2012, 9:40 AM EST

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Toronto retail workers are one step closer to winning back their statutory holidays after councillors passed a motion recommending the City exclude eight of nine existing holidays from new shopping rules at a vote held today.

After a lengthy and passionate debate this morning that involved over 30 speakers, including young workers and new immigrants working in the retail sector, Toronto's Economic Development Committee voted to support a recommendation by the City's Holiday Shopping Sub-Committee that would allow local retailers to open their doors only on the Victoria Day holiday, from 10am to 6pm.

CAW Local 414 President Christine Connor said the decision improves on an initial proposal issued to City Council in May 2010 to eliminate all nine stat holidays for city retail workers. The union is hoping Council opts to wipe the slate clean in a final vote scheduled at the end of the month.

"Eliminating stat holidays should never have been raised in the first place," Connor said.  "If retail businesses want to improve competitiveness they shouldn't be doing that on the backs of this City's most vulnerable workers."

Connor said statutory holidays provide the only guaranteed time off the job for retail workers, many of whom face constant fluctuations in shift scheduled and other precarious working conditions.

"This is time that's best spent with friends and family," Connor said. "Ratcheting down stat holidays effectively ratchets down the standard of living for these workers.  We simply can't accept that."

Connor acknowledged the important consultative work done by the three-member Holiday Shopping Sub-Committee, who ran a series of town hall meetings and engaged the public through an online survey on this issue.

Results of the public consultation revealed that a majority of Torontonians do not support a move to increase shopping on designated holidays.

Subsequent to the passing of the City of Toronto Act in 2006, statutory holiday laws now fall under the City's Municipal Code (Chapter 510) - a temporary by-law that largely follows the province's Retail Business Holidays Act. 

In 2010, the City undertook an effort to establish a long-term policy dictating the rules for holiday shopping for local retailers.  The original proposal was to eliminate all 9 statutory holidays and was billed as a move to improve the competitiveness of local businesses.

Connor said many retail workers earn minimum wage, or just marginally higher. Retail workplaces are comprised of a disproportionate number of women, new immigrants and young workers.  

The CAW is calling on the Economic Development Committee to maintain all nine statutory holidays. The union is also willing to issue a joint call to the Province of Ontario, along with municipal leaders and the business community, requesting a full review and modernization of current statutory holiday exemption rules, with an eye to improving the standard of living for retail workers and a fairer, more competitive business environment.

CAW Local 414 represents over 12,000 workers across the province of Ontario, as well as over 6,000 retail workers in the City of Toronto.

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