Could a six-hour workday work in Canada?

People walk by a Canadian Tire Store in downtown Toronto, May 14, 2015.
People walk by a Canadian Tire Store in downtown Toronto, May 14, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

They gave us Abba, IKEA, and now they’re giving us the 6-hour work-week.

People and the media around the world were captivated by Sweden’s announcement of an experimental reduced work week and workers everywhere asked themselves: could this model work for us?

So, in Canada, we too ask: could a six-hour workday work for us?

 “Changing to a six hour workday would require a tremendous change in the way that we, as a society, approach our work lives” employment lawyer Stuart Rudner, from the firm Rudner MacDonald, told Findlaw.ca.

While in theory, a six-hour workday is ideal, there are quite a few obstacles this country would face when implementing it into law. Says Rudner:

“In Canada, it would be difficult to create a situation where nobody works more than 6 hours in a day, given that there are so many permutations and exceptions to the employment laws.”

Another problem Rudner identifies is that the six-hour workday is not employer friendly and would likely face a lot of backlash and impediments from employers, be they small businesses or major corporations.

Then there is the question of how do you even implement such a system?

Employment laws in Canada are regulated provincially, not federally. We do not have a centralized system that has one law that rules the entire country when it comes to employment. In other words, each province would have to pass its own legislation regulating a six-hour workday.

The problem then would be, as per Rudner: “that it is quite possible that some jurisdictions would make a change and others would not, leading to different workweeks in each jurisdiction.”

However, despite all these impediments, could it be done?

Sweden is a medium sized country, whereas Canada is the second largest country in the world, only behind Russia. However, population-wise the same thing is happening in Canada as in Sweden: you have a relatively small population compared to the large amount of land.

Both Sweden and Canada are mixed economies.

In terms of governmental systems, Sweden is similar to Canada in that it has a national government and also a regional (what we would call provincial) level followed by a local level (municipal level).

Sweden’s employment system is reliant on unions, as most Swedish workplaces have collective agreements. Canada also has unions that regulate public sector employees in such industries as education, transportation and more. However, unions are not as prevalent as in Sweden with only about 30% of the Canadian workforce being unionized.

Given the similarities, and differences, between Canada and Sweden, and despite the numerous impediments we would be facing in implementing a six-hour workday, Canada could possibly still succeed in this experiment.

Arguably, the biggest impediment to the six-hour work-day in Canada is the fact that our neighbour to the south is based on a mixed-economic capitalist system and Canada has a habit of measuring itself against the United States.

Not to mention that our economies are actually intertwined, as we have the NAFTA agreement, and the U.S. is one of Canada’s largest trading partners.

That leaves us with the dream of the six-hour workday, the implementation of which is unlikely at this point in time in Canada.

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