Nova Scotia

Viola Desmond Day: Who has the day off — and who doesn't

While many Nova Scotians will be hitting the slopes, relaxing by the fire or cleaning out the basement on Heritage Day, thousands will likely be toiling away at work.

Labour Department says roughly a third of workforce may not be entitled

Tens of thousands of Nova Scotians will enjoy a break from work on Heritage Day, but plenty will not. (CBC)

While many Nova Scotians will be hitting the slopes, relaxing by the fire or tidying up the basement on Heritage Day, thousands will be toiling at work.

There are no firm numbers on how many don't benefit from Nova Scotia's newest statutory holiday, to be marked this year on Feb. 16. But the Labour Department says roughly a third of the province's 450,000-strong labour force is not, at least under law, entitled to a day off or holiday pay if they're on the job.

That's in large part because provincial legislation doesn't cover federal government employees, nor federally regulated industries such as telephone companies, railways and airlines.

"Federally regulated employers are typically those businesses that operate in more than one jurisdiction and they're linked, they link those jurisdictions," says Rebecca Saturley, a labour lawyer and partner at law firm Stewart McKelvey

"Those kind of bigger businesses aren't covered by the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code, and there is no comparable federal holiday, as of right now."

The list of federally regulated industries includes banks, ports, marine shipping, some federal Crown corporations, and even grain elevators and animal feed mills.

Even so, some employees who work in those industries may still get the day off. Several banks, for instance, say they will be closed Heritage Day and their employees will be paid.

On the flip side, Crown corporation Canada Post says its corporate locations will be open and mail will be delivered, while federally regulated Eastlink says its employees will be on shift.

Collective agreements

Nova Scotia legislation includes other exceptions, such as those working on fishing boats, real estate agents and salespeople on commission.

There's another caveat: unionized workers are not entitled to the holiday unless it's included in their collective agreement, or a letter of understanding is added.

While most collective agreements include language that automatically adds a new statutory holiday, some do not — including the contract governing Halifax firefighters.

Halifax Professional Firefighters Association president Jim Gates says there's no issue with firefighters working holidays, but he had hoped non-emergency personnel covered under the contract would be allowed the day off.

Those include staff who work in administration, logistics, fire prevention and training. He says there were talks with management, but as there's no provision for it in the collective agreement, non-essential services staff will be showing up for work.

"They'll all be at work, where I don't feel that they necessarily have to be," Gates says.

Gates says adding the holiday will part of negotiations to replace the current contract, which expires in 2016.

The Liberal government introduced legislation late in 2013 to create Heritage Day, but delayed its implementation a year so businesses could adjust. Six other provinces also have a February holiday.

Heritage Day is marked on the third Monday of February and each year will celebrate a different person, place or event. Nova Scotia civil rights activist Viola Desmond is the first.

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