Employee labour rights key to Glebe businesses opening on stat holidays, says councillor

The Glebe BIA is preparing an educational package for its members on the labour rights of its employees should its stores be allowed to open on some statutory holidays.

That eases the mind of Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, who conceded he reluctantly voted in favour of the BIA’s application earlier this week for an exemption from the provincial Retail Business Holiday Act.

“I’ve heard too many stories of employees who have got rights and yet they either don’t know it or (their rights) are quite regularly being abused,” he said.

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The exemption would allow the neighbourhood’s retailers to open on New Year’s Day, Family Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving Day, plus any other holidays declared by the province in the future.

Mr. Chernushenko, who as councillor for the Glebe is automatically a member of the BIA, said employee rights are an issue he regularly brings up at the association’s meetings.

The recommendation to make Glebe businesses exempt from closing on most statutory holidays, which goes to council Feb. 10, also gives rise to other issues, Mr. Chernushenko said.

Some critics have suggested it is just the thin edge of the wedge toward a policy that would eventually allow all Ottawa retailers to open their doors on most statutory holidays, while others have complained the city is playing favourites by allowing some tourist areas to open on the holidays but not others.

“Those are all good and important issues, but they weren’t what we were voting on (Tuesday),” he said. “We were voting on one BIA that had taken the time to complete an application process according to the rules that we had set, and our job was to say yes or no.”

The issue of allowing Glebe stores to open on statutory holidays entered the media spotlight last April when Whole Foods was charged for opening on Good Friday, but Mr. Chernushenko said the BIA had already begun discussions on the issue before that incident. And, he added, it was some of the group’s smaller retailers who were championing the cause.

“A lot of the smaller ones … were essentially saying, ‘We see people going past our door and our door is locked,’” he said. “They’re cleaning or restocking on that day, but they can’t open.”

While Mr. Chernushenko stopped short of calling the upcoming council vote a “done deal,” he did say he expected the recommendation to pass.

“It’s rare that councillors, after a rigorous debate at committee … will choose to rehash the whole debate again or vote against it,” he said.

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