We work hard, they enjoy life

Posted on August 21, 2011 in Policy Context

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TheGlobeandMail.com – news/politics
Published Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011.     John Ibbitson

The situation with the euro is so grave that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy interrupted their vacations this week to discuss it. British Prime Minister David Cameron had to cut short his holidays when the urban rioting got out of hand. The poor dears.

We hope you’ve been having a pleasant summer. You’d probably have enjoyed it more, though, if you lived in Vilnius. Like most Europeans, the Lithuanians give themselves a great deal more time off than do Canadians, who take fewer holidays than just about anyone on Earth. Farmland in Southern Ontario has something to do with it.

The human resources consulting firm Mercer tabulates vacation and statutory holidays in countries around the world. (The latest available figures are from 2009.) Brazil is one of those at the top, with a mandatory minimum of six weeks (30 days) vacation a year for workers – if you can call them that – along with 11 statutory holidays.

Most European countries are also very generous. Lithuanians are entitled to 28 days of vacation and get 13 public holidays. The Irish can contemplate the wreckage of their economy during the almost six weeks (29 days) of vacation and government holidays they enjoy. Australians get a combined 28 days of vacation and holidays, which may be why they always seem to be wherever you are.

The Americans don’t legislate vacation time, but Mercer notes that 15 days is what employers typically offer – putting the United States near the bottom.

But not dead last. That honour belongs to Canada. Though each province is different, Ontario is typical, with a paltry 10 days of minimum vacation plus nine statutory holidays. Even the Chinese, with their legendary work ethic, give themselves two days more.

Another study shows just how out of sync Canada and the U.S. are with much of the rest of the world. A 2010 Ipsos/Reuters poll showed that only 57 per cent of Americans and 58 per cent of Canadians take all of the vacation time they’re entitled to.

But 89 per cent of the French use up every one of the 40 days of vacation and statutory holidays they enjoy, and 80 per cent of Argentines do likewise.

So why are North Americans entitled to fewer holidays than their counterparts elsewhere, and why do they take less of the paltry time they’re owed? The conventional explanation is probably the correct one. We are settler societies, and our collective DNA is still encoded with the emphasis on individual liberties that our more communitarian – not to mention heavily unionized – European forebears lack.

Crudely put: We work harder, they enjoy life more.

Take Ontario. The first settlers from the U.S. and Britain happily discovered that Upper Canada had some of the richest soil in North America. The farmers did well, and the factories that eventually replaced the grist mills powered the province’s industrial revolution.

It made Ontarians insufferably smug, convinced that their hard work and a Protestant God lay behind their success. While their descendants aren’t quite as ruthlessly individualistic as their American counterparts, they remain far more stiff-necked in their sense of independence than most others, and more convinced that work is the path to salvation.

This doesn’t explain the Australians. But nothing ever does.

Canada, of course, is growing increasingly distant from its settler heritage, with 250,000 immigrants flooding into the country annually, mostly from Asia. Sadly, Asians don’t take much time off, either.

So we’re stuck with it: less time off forever. Now stop reading the newspaper and get back to work.

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