At 48-hours, Nova Scotia has one of the longest workweeks in the country. Before a worker is legally entitled to earn an overtime rate of pay (one-and-a half times their regular wage), they generally have to have worked 48-hours over a one-week span.
The Canadian labour movement began advocating for a 9-hour work day during the late 1800s. By the 1950s, a 40-hour work week became standard across the country. This shortened work week was won by labour groups who believed that reduced working hours would prevent abuse and worker exhaustion.
The nation achieved a 40-hour workweek so long ago it may seem surprising to hear that the Nova Scotian workweek is still 8-hours longer. “When hosting our know-your-rights workshops, one of the topics that confuses workers most is the abnormally long working hours in this province,” says Katrin MacPhee, labour lawyer and volunteer for Halifax Workers Action Centre. “It is a subject that often requires some explaining. People assume that work weeks are just 40-hours in length.”
Compared with most other Canadian provinces, a 48-hour work week is exceptionally long. Five Canadian provinces and all three territories have achieved 40-hour work weeks. Under the Canada Labour Code, federally regulated workers also operate under this standard.
In addition to guaranteeing a weekly overtime rate after 40-hours of work, several provincial jurisdictions specify that employees are eligible to receive overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a day. Nova Scotia, however, has yet to implement a daily overtime rate for employees who exceed an 8-hour work day.
The cost long hours
For workers, the consequences of long hours are their physical and mental wellbeing. Multiple health risks are associated with overtime work, including excessive alcohol consumption, depression, anxiety, physical pain, and even workplace injury.
By eroding time available for friends and family, long work weeks can come with emotional and personal consequences as well. “When people aren’t able to spend time with their friends and family, feelings of isolation can set in,” says Sakura Saunders, another organizer with the Halifax Workers’ Action Centre.
This can be especially destructive to families with small children, including single mothers. As Saunders says, “making ends meet is already challenging given the low wages in this province. When parents have so little free-time, strain is put on vulnerable families who could benefit from the presence of a parent”.
Even from an employer standpoint, imposing long working hours on employees may come with its own set of consequences. Studies prove that when people are unhealthy, stressed, and exhausted, they are less engaged at work. On the other hand, when employees are well-rested, they tend to perform better, and worker retention is improved.
The effects of a 48-hour work week can come with added financial consequences, particularly for low-income workers in Nova Scotia. Rebecca Casey, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Acadia University and author of a recent CCPA report “A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats”, calculates a potential $140 weekly earnings loss for minimum wage workers in the province. “$140 can make an enormous difference to a low-income household,” says MacPhee. For workers who are paid more than minimum wage, earnings losses are even greater.
Some workers in Nova Scotia are only entitled to an overtime rate of pay after 110 hours of work over a 2-week period, which is especially concerning. Farm workers, apprentices, live-in health care professionals, and janitors are all examples of people who may be exempt from the standard legislation regarding overtime pay.
Reduce the work week
“These workers could work 60 hours one week and 50 hours the next week, and still be ineligible for overtime pay simply because the combined hours do not exceed 110,” says MacPhee. “This renders some workers excessively vulnerable, and exposes them to increased risk.”
A 48-hour work week is excessive and harmful. When long working hours come without the financial reward of overtime pay, the implications can be even more severe. “The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign, along with the Halifax Workers’ Action Centre, is pushing for a reduction in the long hours imposed on workers in the province,” says Saunders. “Nova Scotians simply deserve better.”