Government offices, schools to close for Sept. 30 holiday, but businesses undecided

Students won’t be in class and federal and some provincial employees will get a day off, but the new Sept. 30 holiday in honour of National Truth and Reconciliation Day won’t be mandatory in all B.C. workplaces.

Sept. 30 has traditionally been known as Orange Shirt Day in remembrance of Indigenous peoples across the country who suffered in residential schools.

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The federal government declared through an act of Parliament in June that Sept. 30 would be a paid day off for employees in the federal public service, including staff at CFB Esquimalt, federal office buildings and the post office, while federally regulated business such as banks will be closed.

Classes won’t be held in south Island public schools or at the University of Victoria and Camosun College.

The province, however, does not officially recognize it as a statutory holiday and B.C.’s Employment Standards Act — which lists holidays when businesses must close or pay overtime wages — remains unchanged.

Representatives of the B.C. General Employees’ Union, Hospital Employees’ Union and Professional Employees Association said the majority of their employers have indicated the day will be treated as a holiday. The three unions represent about 130,000 people, including provincial government employees, municipal and regional district staff, health-care workers and health-authority staff, librarians, lawyers, University of Victoria staff and professionals at the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

“We had certainly reached out to all of our employers and encouraged them to recognize that holiday,” said Scott McCannell, executive director of the Professional Employees Association.

Murray Rankin, B.C.’s minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said in a statement this month that the provincial government has advised provincial public-sector employers to “honour this day and in recognition of the obligations in the vast majority of collective agreements.”

“Our government is calling on all of us who deliver services to the public to use this opportunity to consider what each of us can do as individuals to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and to recommit to understanding the truth of our shared history, to accept and learn from it and in doing so, help to create a better, more inclusive British Columbia.”

Rankin said the province will work with Indigenous leaders, organizations and communities on the best and most respectful ways to mark Truth and Reconciliation Day in B.C., followed by engagement with business and labour stakeholders for their perspectives on how the national day is commemorated in future years.

The business community appears torn on how to approach Sept. 30.

Brendon Rolfe, senior manager of business resources for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said many businesses are confused about whether the statutory holiday applies to them.

“And, in general, small business and our members don’t support the addition of statutory holidays and that’s strictly due to the associated financial strain it brings,” he said.

If a business closes to recognize the day, the owners are expected to pay their staff the equivalent of an average day’s pay, while if they remain open, staff are paid time and a half for each hour worked.

“It’s a huge cost to business,” he said, noting even if they close, they are paying wages without having the benefit of any revenue.

However, Rolfe noted many of the members he’s spoken with in B.C. do want to recognize the day.

“They want to take the opportunity to discuss and promote diversity, inclusion and belonging with their teams,” he said. “They feel it may be a good opportunity to do that without closing or giving staff a day off.

“We’ve been telling them it’s a great opportunity to enhance workplace culture.”

UFCW 1518, the union representing retail and grocery workers, said it urged Save-on-Foods and Thrifty Foods parent Sobeys to recognize the holiday with paid days off for staff. But the grocers told the union the businesses will remain open and each would be endorsing a range of initiatives to recognize the day.

“It’s disappointing that these companies will not take stronger action for truth and reconciliation,” said UFCW 1518 president Kim Novak. “Save-On-Foods and Sobeys operate on unceded territories and have many Indigenous, First Nations, and Métis employees. Many of these workers went through the residential school system or have family and friends that did, and they deserve a paid day off to mourn and heal.”

The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce will close its doors on Sept. 30.

“We felt it was the right thing to do for our organization and reflects the decision we made, earlier in the summer, to create a new task force to help Indigenous entrepreneurs and First Nation businesses fully participate in Greater Victoria’s business community,” said chamber chief executive Bruce Williams. “Other organizations will make their own decisions. It will, of course, depend on each business and sector, but I do know our members have been very supportive of what the chamber is doing to work toward truth and reconciliation.”

dkloster@timescolonist

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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