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“Rose” has worked at a P.E.I. liquor store every summer for more than a decade, but she’s never had a chance to apply for a permanent position.
Half the 200 staff at P.E.I. liquor stores are casual employees. They have no job security and no benefits.
“It’s just a poor little system,” said Rose, not her real name. The Journal Pioneer has agreed to change her name so speaking out won’t affect her job prospects.
Rose gets about 14 weeks of full-time hours, then works the remainder of the year on-call, getting about 20 hours a week.
All casual P.E.I. liquor store staff are laid off for at least 28 days. Rose said sometimes they can choose spring or fall, but “you have to take your break.”
The gap in pay is the hardest part – it takes weeks for EI payments to begin. Then, when work resumes, wages are held back then as well.
“It is a big hassle,” she said. “It's hard to get ahead because you spend your summer paying back what you accrued saying, ‘Well, I just can't pay that bill right now, there's no money. I'll pay it in July.’”
She likes her job and is happy to keep working, she just wishes there was more security.
Rose and the other casual staff work at the same jobs as the “classified” employees. The difference is “classified” positions have guaranteed hours, sick days, medical benefits and a retirement savings plan.
Casuals are never guaranteed to be rehired after their 28-day break, which makes it hard to plan for the future. The break also keeps the casuals from being eligible to apply for classified internal jobs. They have to apply with the general public, despite their years of experience.
United we stand
Recently though, close to 40 classified jobs have opened up and for the first time, casuals will get a chance to apply ahead of the general public.
Karen Jackson, Union of Public Sector Employees President, said it was important to give casual employees a chance at a permanent position.
"We have these people coming back and putting in all these hours who then lost the ability to apply for positions," said Jackson. "Those casuals who have given time and service to the province, they should be given first opportunity to apply for those positions."
Casuals are meant to be either seasonal employees or on-call to relieve short absences like a vacation or sick days – but not both, she said.
Once the casual competition is finished, the remaining vacancies will become available to the public.
In the fall of 2018, the union asked the commission how many classified vacancies there were, suspecting there were more than the 12 created by staff moving to P.E.I. Cannabis. When the commission did not reply, the union filed a grievance.
The process revealed the commission was not filling vacant classified positions which violates the collective agreement. It states vacancies must be advertised within three months.
Since the violation was uncovered, UPSE and the Commission have been working closely to make it right.
The liquor commission did “hold back” vacancies for a while, said Shawn Alexander, acting human resource manager with the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission.
“We wanted to have a cohesive grouping of positions to advertise so that staff could get a clear view of the positions that were available,” he said.
Future is open for business
Alexander didn’t have a reason for the short layoffs Rose was concerned about. He said the practice came to his attention in the year he’s been in the job.
“We’re trying to rectify that so staff have some feeling of security. The fact is, though, there are basic requirements for the position.”
Over the years, Rose and the others have been offered training, like the Wine and Spirit Education Trust course, and many have all the qualifications needed for the classified jobs – all that’s been missing is the chance to apply.
“We’ve gone through the process of working that out, and we’re going to be working on it continually now,” said Alexander.
Rose said she would be content with part-time hours if she knew it was permanent.