Workers are scrambling to find last-minute child care in parts of Canada after governments announced the sudden closure of schools to mourn Queen Elizabeth on the day of her funeral.
The four Atlantic provinces, British Columbia and Yukon all declared Monday a holiday for provincial and territorial public-sector employees, including teachers and school staff.
Yet most private-sector businesses will remain open, leaving many workers struggling to find child care or in some cases having to take an unpaid day off.
Kristine Grace, a mother of two children in Grades 2 and 5 who lives in Dartmouth, NS, said the decision to honor the Queen’s funeral service by giving public-sector workers a holiday is disappointing.
“Many workers are now in a child-care bind because they’ve closed schools but haven’t actually declared a full statutory holiday,” she said.
After two years of pandemic-related school disruptions, Grace said it’s frustrating for families to once again be forced to grapple with sudden closures.
“I do think these kinds of decisions disproportionately affect women,” she said. “It’s also a missed opportunity to discuss the monarchy in Canada and maybe hold an assembly during the funeral service or have a moment of silence.”
Jill Bruce, a mother of three who’s also from Dartmouth, said working parents haven’t been given enough time to find alternative child care.
“We’re left scrambling to find a babysitter, and some parents can’t afford to take a day off work,” she said. “This just feels unfair after two years of pandemic school closures. We’re all burnt out.”
Part of the problem is the two-tiered nature of the holiday, Bruce added.
“Government employees get the day off and schools are closed, but for most working parents, it’s like, ‘You’re on your own.'”
A ‘charade’ to claim Monday a holiday, says the researcher
Judy Haiven, a researcher with the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives and a retired professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, said it’s a “charade” to claim that Monday is a holiday when only civil servants get the day off.
“They’re trying to dangle the idea that workers have more rights in this province, and it’s absolutely not true,” she said. “In fact, the reverse is true because now some parents will lose a day of pay because they have child-care responsibilities.”
It’s not just working parents impacted by school closures.
Businesses are also juggling schedules to accommodate workers who need to stay at home to take care of children.
“This has come out of the blue and left some employees scrambling to find alternative child-care arrangements or booking the day off,” said Gary Sands, senior vice-president of public policy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.
“Many businesses are dealing with labor shortages, so this is certainly an issue.”
Louis-Philippe Gauthier, the Atlantic vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said some small businesses are already on reduced hours due to staffing shortages.
“This could impact the ability for some businesses to simply operate if workers can’t come in because of school closures,” he said. “It’s just very challenging.”
Mark von Schellwitz, Western Canada vice-president with Restaurants Canada, said the biggest challenge in the restaurant industry right now is a labor shortage.
“It’s really, really difficult to get staff,” he said. “Many operations are already at about 80 percent because they just don’t have the staff to open full time.”
“If workers need to stay home because of school closures, that makes it even more challenging for restaurants.”