The last Sunday holdout (Editorial)

Managing editor John Hobel's take on Sunday shopping

About this time next year Nova Scotians will likely be voting in a referendum on a workplace issue that the rest of Canada has long forgotten about. It harkens back to a time when the notion of a day of pause had firm support.

Aside from its religious connection, Sunday had secular support as a common day available for friends, family and self. It was a time before work-life balance entered the workplace lexicon.

The disappearance of Sundays off is a fitting symbol for the entrenchment of a modern fast-paced era and its accompanying employee stress, burnout and related absenteeism.

Sundays off were slowly whittled away. As workers in other sectors found themselves unable to keep up with household tasks — shopping included — the need to open up Sunday for chores became a necessity. The idea of a common day of rest had appeal, but it wasn’t practical any longer.

Retailers were often split between those that welcomed Sunday shopping and others that supported the status quo. But border areas had to keep up with retailers across provincial boundaries that had already approved Sunday shopping, and the issue rolled on.

While opportunities do open up for business, retail inevitably takes a recruitment-and-retention hit with seven-day-a-week operations, particularly for chain stores and solo-operators that staff outlets with small workforces of 10 or less. It’s a case of never being certain that staff will be available to give a manager a scheduled day off — Sunday or otherwise. There’s no guarantee someone in retail will ever get the same day off as a spouse. It’s a problem retailers have to face when building dedicated workforces.

But it all becomes a moot point when the Sunday shopping juggernaut rolls into your neighbourhood.

How Nova Scotia avoided the jurisdictional domino effect until now is a curiosity.

The government’s plan is to hold a plebiscite next fall, but pressure is mounting from opposition parties and business people who are ready to accept the inevitable and act earlier. Even the NDP has given up the issue. But as Ontarians discovered a decade ago when Sunday shopping was adopted during the NDP’s turn in office, the party that purports to support workers doesn’t necessarily see things the way retail workers may. Then again union member rights and worker rights are not necessarily the same thing, especially when it comes to political support. Despite labour drives, retail workers are mostly without unions.

So thanks in advance to Nova Scotia retail employees who are getting some negative work-life balance while everyone else gets another day to help balance out theirs. In appreciation shoppers should pledge not to return an expensive item, accompanied with a rude complaint and no receipt, on the first Sunday stores open.

Sunday shopping is inevitable in Nova Scotia; the pace of today’s society demands it. It’s just ironic that giving up a common day of pause is necessary for Canadians to improve their work-life balance.

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