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Vacation at your own risk

By Steph Guthrie

Canadian employers must provide two weeks’ paid vacation to full-time employees, one of the lowest mandates to be found among the world’s advanced economies. As more full-time jobs are eliminated and replaced with contracts, “vacation at your own risk” may become the new status quo.

It recently occurred to me that, in my 13 years of work, I have rarely taken paid vacation. Most of my jobs have been part-time or contracts with no benefits (including no paid vacation time). Contractors should be paid 4% of the contract’s base value in lieu of vacation at the end of their contracts, but not all are aware of this. In any case, many part-time and contract workers don’t make a high enough wage to cover their costs of living, so an unpaid vacation is out of reach. To make matters worse, the cost of an unpaid vacation is only partly about the money required to pay for it, or the wages you miss by not working.

It’s also about being able to shoulder the risks a vacation may present. Sometimes these risks are low: say, you’re in a long-term contract relationship with an employer who is willing to build your vacation time into their work schedules. Often these risks are higher: say, uncertain standing with an employer, or simply an impossible-to-manage workload upon your return. When dependent on contracts with multiple employers, the risks also multiply.

One risk that all contractors carry is uncertainty about their employment and, thus, unpredictability of future income. A full-time employee has the assurance that their permanent job will afford them steady income after a major expenditure like a vacation. A contractor has no guarantee that their income will remain steady, particularly if their employer does not look kindly upon vacation time.

Regardless of which risks we’re talking about, though, the contractor (and not the employer) shoulders the bulk of them independently. This is a big part of why today’s employers gravitate toward contract relationships with workers.

Risk limits access to those who can afford to shoulder it. Look at unpaid internships: much of our economy’s creative work is now only accessible to those who can afford the high-risk investment of unpaid time. As the trend toward contract labour continues, someday vacations, too, may only be accessible to those who can afford the risks.

When was the last time you took a week’s vacation? Humblebrag about it in the comments!

Steph Guthrie is the moderator of the MediaTech Commons. She’s an internet animator and a full-time feminist. You can join her at the MediaTech Commons by signing up here. Already a member? Log in here.

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