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.
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 2, 2019. 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?”
Note that public holiday requirements are changing on September 1, 2019, in Alberta and federally regulated workplaces.
In Alberta: effective September 1, 2019,
A qualifying period to be entitled to general holiday pay has been reinstated. An employee has to work 30 days in the last 12 months before being eligible for holiday pay.
The distinction between regular and irregular workdays for the purpose of calculating holiday pay is also reinstated and has the following impact:
- Employees who are regularly scheduled to work on a holiday and who work the holiday are entitled to receive either: 1.5 times their regular wage for hours worked, plus their “average daily wage” or their regular wage for hours worked, their “average daily wage” and one day off work
- Employees who are regularly scheduled to work on a holiday but who do not work on the holiday are entitled to their average daily wage.
- Employees who are not regularly scheduled to work on the holiday and who do work the holiday are entitled to 1.5 times their regular wage for the hours worked.
- Employees who are not regularly scheduled to work on that day and who do not work the holiday do not receive holiday pay.
In federally regulated workplaces, effective September 1, 2019:
The 30-day service requirement for an employee to be entitled to holiday pay for a general holiday under the Canada Labour Code is eliminated. This is a change from the current legislation and will require holiday pay to be paid no matter how long the employee has worked for an employer before the holiday.
An employer may, in respect of one or more employees subject to a collective agreement, substitute any other day for a public holiday if the substitution is agreed to in writing by the employer and the trade union, and the substituted day must, for that employee or those employees, be deemed to be a public holiday.
An employer may, in respect of one or more employees not subject to a collective agreement, substitute any other day for a public holiday, and the substituted day must, for that employee or those employees, be deemed to be a public holiday, if the substitution has been approved:
- in the case of a substitution that affects one employee, by that employee in writing; or
- in the case of a substitution that affects more than one employee, by at least 70 percent of the affected employees.
If any other day is to be substituted for a public holiday, the employer must post a notice of the substitution in a readily accessible place where it is likely to be seen by the affected employees for at least 30 days before the substitution takes effect.
Employers who allow the substitution of any other day of work for a public holiday are required to keep a record of any written agreement with any one employee or group of employees to the substitution of a public holiday.
For specific legislative requirements and entitlements to Labour Day in your jurisdiction, consult The Human Resources Advisor. Request a 30-day free subscription here!
To understand the payroll implications of providing a day off with pay to employees, consult PaySource. Request a 30-day free subscription here!
Happy Labour Day, and have a great and safe long weekend!