Sign me up for the European Plan
It’s the last day of your vacation. You’re sitting on the dock, the beach or wherever…sipping a cold beverage and thinking, “I sure could use just one more week off...” It sounds tempting, but you know that if you did take that week, you would have nothing left to take at Christmas. It’s a dilemma that most of us have probably encountered at one time or other.
Here in Canada, we hoard our vacation days like so many jewels in a treasure chest. Some of us use all our vacation every year; others just can’t seem to get away from work. Regardless, most people would wish to have more time off available to them.
Kate Moore, RPR
Statutory requirements under provincial employment standards in 9 out of 10 provinces and the Canada Labour Code provide for 10 days of annual paid vacation (Saskatchewan being the exception with 15). Though many organizations exceed this in their compensation packages, Canada still lags sadly behind most First World countries in the provision of paid vacation time.
Hewitt Associates Work Life Survey (2000) rates Canada 17th out of 20 First World countries in legislated paid vacation entitlement. Most countries such as Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands give workers 20 days per year. Others go even higher. In Denmark, workers get 31 days, Austrians get 30 days and in France and Sweden, workers get 25 days. Not a bad deal when combined with a general European trend toward shorter work weeks and strict overtime maximums.
Canada’s level of statutory vacation entitlement has remained unchanged since the mid-1970’s. Conversely, the number of hours that the average employee puts in has risen steadily throughout the past 20 years. Working 40 hours or more has become the norm. Furthermore, technology, which was supposed to give so much free time, has tied us to the office even when we are at home or on holiday. All these things combined – lower vacation entitlements, longer hours and inability to get away from the office – can put tremendous stress on employees and their families.
What is the solution to this dilemma? Traditionally, it is employers who have shaped the landscape of pay and benefits, with legislators providing for the bare minimum of standards. Perhaps we can hope that Generation Y and the Nexters, who tend to place higher value on work-life balance, engineer such a transition making it more competitively attractive for organizations to offer more reasonable work hours and more generous vacation entitlements. It would be nice if the generation to follow us saw an improvement in this regard, rather than furthering the legacy of 24-hour availability and small, unused vacation banks.