A while back, I wrote about the push to open up retail stores in the Glebe on statutory holidays. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the idea. I felt that if we were going to start doing away with stat holidays, we needed to enter into a larger discussion, rather than just focus on certain industries and certain neighbourhoods.
I also felt the process was fundamentally flawed when it appeared to be left up to politicians, bureaucrats and business owners, leaving the retail workers (the people this would actually affect) out of the discussion, for the most part. Alas, the motion passed.
But the implementation of these new rules have hit a setback. The Ottawa and District Labour Council has brought this issue to the Ontario Municipal Board. They feel the city didn’t sufficiently concern itself with the plight of the workers, and they’re clearly correct.
Whatever the proper resolution to this matter, the whole issue was quite rushed. There was not sufficient public debate, and very little investigation into the rationale for having holidays, the rationale for abandoning them piecemeal and the effect such a decision would have on the greater community.
The story notes that one shop owner in the Glebe didn’t like the new rule:
Jennifer Adam, owner of JD Adam Kitchen Co. at Bank Street and Third Avenue, said she wants to give her “very dedicated staff” the holidays they deserve.
But if her retails neighbours start opening on holidays, she’ll feel pressured to do the same, she said.
Now, it’s easy to take a laissez-faire stance on this and suggest that Ms. Adam is free to give her staff the holiday, regardless of the city’s policy, but that would be a facile argument that completely ignores why we have holidays and the pressures of retail.
Years ago, I ran a couple of wine stores, one of which was at Westgate Mall. Westgate was not the most vibrant of malls, sadly, so it wasn’t always very busy. When the mall expanded its hours, staying open until 9:00 every weeknight, stores were given the option to close early on Monday and Tuesday. Many did. We did not.
The company I worked for had a policy. When a store was in a mall, it had to to be open whenever the mall was open (liquor license permitting). It didn’t matter that we might have two customers in three hours, thus losing money. The rationale was that customers needed to know that they could always expect the store to be open when the mall was open.
This made sense. If a customer couldn’t rely on us to be open, then they would likely take their business to a store they could count on. This is the predicament JD Adam could find itself in. Not opening on a holiday could, potentially, hurt non-holiday business.
(And that says nothing of any peer pressure from the rest of the BIA.)
So we can’t just assume that people (management and workers) who want the day off will just be able to close up shop or book the time off, that completely ignores the way the real world actually functions.
The Glebe BIA is seeking to do away with statutory holidays. I don’t know what their true position is (either to do away with them completely, or maintain a competitive advantage over other areas), but this debate is bigger than their business plan and affects more than just their members.
But that’s not the debate we’re currently having. And in a city where the employees of the largest employer will, basically, never be affected by this, we’re not going to.