Holiday raises jitters
Business worried about financial impact
Winnipeg Free Press
Saturday, February 10th, 2007
By Mary Agnes Welch
MANITOBA'S new holiday has already piqued the interest of North Dakota's tourism officials, but local hospitals, construction companies and other big operations are wary about the impact on their bottom lines.
The Manitoba government pledged this week to create a February holiday -- a move applauded by thousands of Manitobans demanding a respite from the deep-freeze.
But local business leaders say the holiday carries some unforeseen pitfalls and could cost the economy in lost productivity.
"Not that a holiday isn't a good idea, but it becomes an operational issue and that becomes a financial issue," said Peter Whiteman, executive director of the Construction Labour Relations Association of Manitoba.
"As an individual, who doesn't want a day off in February? It's a crappy month. But for an employer that becomes a premium day -- time-and-a-half or double time."
Whiteman's organization includes most major Manitoba construction firms who band together to negotiate contracts with unionized building trades.
Whiteman also serves on the Labour Management Review Committee (LMRC), the group of big unions and big businesses that advises the province on key issues, such as the recent reform of the employment standards act.
Whiteman said he sent an e-mail out to his members asking how the holiday will affect projects and finances. He expects no shortage of answers.
Labour Minister Nancy Allan was the star of 92 CITI FM's raucous morning show yesterday, where she confirmed the government will create the winter holiday. The government bowed to weeks of pressure -- including a cheeky 92 CITI FM petition signed by over 25,000 Manitobans -- to create the holiday.
But there are still some outstanding questions the government is looking to the LMRC for help in answering.
It's still not clear whether the day will be a genuine statutory holiday, such as Christmas Day and Victoria Day, where all offices and most retail businesses must close.
The other option is allowing stores to open on Sunday hours, much like on Thanksgiving. On those days, it is largely up to employers whether employees must show up to work, though banks, schools, government offices and most large firms shut down.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates the day off will cost the economy $157 million, though the province has downplayed that figure.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, which runs nine hospitals, 39 nursing homes as well as home care and mental health programs, hasn't yet calculated the cost of keeping essential services running on a holiday.
Since many workers are unionized, they'll most certainly be paid a double-time premium for working on the holiday. Calculating the extra cost is something that will likely begin in the weeks to come, said a spokesman.
It's also not clear what the day will be named, or exactly when it will fall.
Whiteman said it's fairly clear to him it should fall on a Friday or Monday instead of a set date that doesn't guarantee workers a long weekend. That's often the case for Canada Day, when July 1 rather unhelpfully falls in the middle of the week.
A guaranteed long weekend would also make it easier for the building trades, since a mid-week break throws the complicated timelines on a construction site out of whack.
"When these big projects get going, they're like a steam engine," said Whiteman. "It's very tough to put the brakes on. When you're pouring concrete, you can't just leave it for a day."
A long weekend would also be a boon to North Dakota's tourism industry, which is fairly quiet in mid-winter.
"If a new holiday is offered, we'll certainly try to encourage our Canadian friends to come down to North Dakota," said Kim Schmidt, director of public affairs for the state tourism office.
EDITORIAL: REASON GOES ON HOLIDAY A18
Tories start contest
THE Manitoba Tories have jumped on the winter holiday bandwagon and launched a "name that day" contest.
They say the holiday should be set as the second Monday in February, and they're asking Manitobans to suggest names for the day.
E-mail entries to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Feb. 16.
Five ideas will be chosen and then put to an online vote.
© 2007 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.
So what do you think this new holiday should be called? Let's hear from all you 'Toban forumers out there!