Labour Day is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers around the world. For most countries, Labour Day is linked with International Workers’ Day, which occurs on May 1. For other countries, Labour Day is celebrated on a different date, often one with special significance for the labour movement in that country. Often, Labour Day is a public holiday (a.k.a. statutory holiday) in many countries.
Origin of Labour Day in Canada
In Canada, the origin of Labour Day dates back to 1872, at a time when workplace safety and unemployment insurance did not exist. Working 10 plus hours a day was the norm at that time. Workers were launching campaigns and parades towards better working conditions. However, trade unions were still illegal and striking was seen as a criminal conspiracy to disrupt trade. But there was enormous public support for the campaigns and the authorities could no longer deny the important role that the trade unions had to play in the emerging Canadian society. Shortly after a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour workweek, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald introduced the Trade Unions Act, legalizing and protecting unions. Soon all unions were seeking a 58-hour workweek (or lower) and better working conditions.
Labour Day was officially made a public holiday on July 23, 1894, by Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson and his government. Labour Day was originally celebrated in the spring but it was moved to the fall after 1894.
Trade unions use the occasion to campaign for and celebrate workers’ rights during parades and picnics. Families use this day as an opportunity to take a late summer trip, perhaps to their country cottage, or enjoy the company of family or friends at picnics, fairs, festivals and fireworks displays.
How is Labour Day observed in law?
Across Canada, Labour Day is a public holiday that is observed on the first Monday in September every year. This year, Labour Day is Monday September 4, 2017. Government bodies and agencies, as well as most businesses, are closed on Labour Day.
Typically, employees are given Labour Day off with regular pay, an average day’s pay or public holiday pay (depending on the province or territory of employment). In the event an employee is required to work on the holiday, the employee must be paid regular wages and get a substituted day off with pay at a later date (again, this depends on the province or territory of employment).
There are some exemptions, variations and special rules under each jurisdiction’s employment/labour standards legislation and regulations. It is important that employers, as well as human resources and payroll practitioners, understand such rules to not only avoid violating the law but also to minimize costs. For instance, the following questions should be asked: “Can I substitute the day of the holiday for another day?” “What retail or continuous businesses are required to close or may remain open on a public holiday?” “Are there any qualifying criteria an employee is required to meet to be entitled to the public holiday with pay?” “What earnings are included when calculating holiday pay?” “How is overtime affected by the holiday?”
Happy Labour Day, and have a great and safe long weekend!
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