Labour Day is an annual and global 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 or general holiday) in many countries including Canada. However, this year, the celebrations are going virtual.
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 7, 2020. Government bodies and agencies, as well as most businesses and banks, 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?”
But how is Labour Day observed this year due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic?
Pandemic issues will top the agenda at virtual Labour Day
For the first time in anyone’s memory there won’t be a provincial, territorial or regional Labour Day parade or picnic this year.
The festivities have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, several Labour Councils will host a virtual Labour Day observance, including posting information about the importance of the labour movement, on their websites and Facebook pages.
This year’s theme for several labour unions like Unifor is Defending and Rebuilding.
Several Labour Councils have indicated that demands for an auto strategy, green economy and an end to racism will be among the topics, but issues related to the pandemic will top the agenda.
For example, the Ontario Windsor and District Labour Council has indicated to the media, that “the labour movement is calling on government to step in to fill the “cracks in society” exposed by the pandemic, including protection for frontline workers, reforming the long-term care system and improving conditions for migrant farm workers.”
“We need an overhaul of the long term care. We need universal public pharmacare.” […] “They’ve characterized the pandemic as the great equalizer and that’s not true. The most marginalized people have been hurt.”
Justice for Migrant Workers is partnering with caterToronto for a Migrant Workers’ Day of Digital Action on Labour Day as well.
There are a lot of things to ponder this year! And on that note,
Latest posts by Marie-Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor (see all)
- First Reference annual holiday donation, season’s greetings and holiday break - December 24, 2021
- Ontario extends the COVID-19 period and paid IDEL period - December 8, 2021
- Impact of September 30th federal holiday - September 14, 2021