Workin’ Around The Christmas Tree

The holiday season for most people means spending quality time with family, eating too much food and relaxing by the fireplace. University students in particular look forward to going home for the holidays and taking a break from the stresses of exams and schoolwork. But for those who work in retail, the winter holidays usually look a lot different.

Kaitlin Clarke, a third-year Ryerson student, is one of many who struggle to make it home for Christmas. As an employee of Aritzia at the Toronto Eaton Centre, she’s required to work Christmas Eve and Boxing Day—some of the busiest shopping days of the year—or find somewhere else to work.

“My family is not too crazy about my work schedule during the holidays and they often just tell me to quit and come home for Christmas,” said Clarke. “But I would rather be working and have to deal with those crazy hours than not have a job at all.”

According to Statistics Canada, approximately two million Canadians are working in retail this holiday season, and there are more Canadians working in the sector than ever before. However, retail employees don’t receive any sort of compensation or incentives for working through the holidays, even when they’re required to work more hours than they’re usually available. Christmas is considered to be a family time, yet some retail workers will not get to see theirs.

Clarke is originally from Whitby, Ont., approximately an hour’s drive from Toronto. Even though her family is nearby, only having a single day off makes it difficult to get there and see them before she has to return to the city.

“It isn’t really enough time to go back and forth,” said Clarke, who said she works an average of 50 hours a week during the holiday season.

“Even if you are not hired as [a seasonal employee], you still have to work those crazy hours during the holidays… I enjoy working at Aritzia, but it does suck missing out on holiday events.”

Fourth-year Ryerson journalism student Sarah Jackson has been a part-time North Face  sales associate at at Yorkdale Shopping Centre for over a year now. She was hired as a seasonal employee last September, but her contract was extended after last year’s holiday season.

“My boss told me right at the beginning that December is a complete blackout period for booking time off,” Jackson said. “If you try to book off more than one day in December they will just tell you to not come back.”

Jackson is originally from Beeton, Ont., approximately an hour and a half drive from Toronto, and she will also only have Christmas Day to spend with her family.

“It is sad, but it’s just the way it is…the retail business is so heavily populated with university students and we have to work when we are not in school in order to afford school,” said Jackson. “[We] expect to work over Christmas because that is when university students have the time off to work.”

According to an article from the Huffington Post, those who work in retail in Sweden “earn 40 per cent more than Canadian retail workers, they receive greater overtime pay for working holidays and weekends and they also receive five weeks paid vacation.”

However, Clarke and Jackson have both accepted that, in order to afford skyrocketing rents, ever-increasing tuition payments and other bills, they must work extra hours when most people are on vacation. Quitting and having to find a new job just isn’t feasible, they say.

“There aren’t really any other options for university students; it’s either work in retail or work in a restaurant so if I quit I don’t know what else I would do,” said Jackson. “There aren’t any other jobs that will be as flexible with my school schedule so [I] have to be willing to not take time off during the holidays.”

Clarke says she wants to find a more stable job that is less hectic, especially during the holidays. But for now, working in retail is just something she has to cope with.

“It is a job I enjoy doing and it is in the fashion field so I will tough it out for a little bit, but it is definitely hard,” she said. “It will be worth it in the end though.”