"We work hard, they enjoy life" - North Americans vs. Europeans

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Niccolo and Donkey
We work hard, they enjoy life

The Globe and Mail

John Ibbitson

August 20, 2011

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.
Niccolo and Donkey

I will work overseas until I have saved enough money to come back to the US and open my own shit.
The Untied States was founded by owners/bosses, not 'the people' and the laws are written for them. They didn't allow/bring immigrants in to give them vacations, the Celts, Continentals, Africans, Asians, and now Asians are pulled in to work.

President Camacho
15 days, plus the 10 or 11 federal holidays where people normally get off from, so that's 26 days vacation and holidays.... not too different from Ireland and Australia. It is true, though, that North Americans tend not to use all of their paid vacation time.

For white collar jobs and unionized labor, I think you'd find that North America is at least within range of Europeans in terms of paid-time-off. The Americans who are really fucked and unprotected in this system are low-rung service sector types. They're the only ones who often get literally no paid time off, combined with a minimum wage that's less than Western Europe.
Niccolo and Donkey
Do you know anyone with six weeks paid per year plus stat holidays?
President Camacho
I know one guy, a doctor, he works in Belgium for GSK.

Anyway I was saying that actual white collar PTO in N America doesn't lag too far behind other developed economies near the bottom of that category like Ireland, Australia, Japan, Argentina. We're obviously farther behind the likes of Austria and France.

Yeah, but if only 57 per cent of people are taking those holidays, it distorts the figure. It astounds me that people wouldn't take leave they are entitled to. It is just mind boggling. Like someone getting paid then going to the ATM and taking out 30 per cent of their salary and handing it back to the employer.

In Australia managers and HR depts make the sad cunts with no lives who don't take all their allocated leave do so.

Shit, where I work we get the statutory minimum (start up, long story) but we also get under the terms of the award (union thing) 7 paid sick days where you don't have to show a medical certificate or anything as long as you're not taking more than two in a row. It is expected that you'll take them too as long you're not an idiot about it: for example conveniently being sick on a Friday and the following Monday and then booking your tickets for your weekend at Byron Bay on a work computer. So really I'm getting 35 days paid.

And don't think we're bludgers. Exact opposite. As I said, it is a media start up so we put in the hours WHEN the work is required. I've worked weekends, I've worked 20 hour days on a story, all that.

The difference is in the US (and some industries here too admittedly: finance, corporate wankery etc) there's a culture of doing the hours for the hours sake. We do the hours when we need to but also have a life as well. FFS - if I was working for a big faceless organisation that was ultimately run by blood curdling sociopath CEO, why would I be donating much of my valuable time to the prick?

Sadly, I think the trend is towards the US attitude and away from ours. That said, the Australian public proved very vehemntly in 2007 that they are happy enough to sign up to most US cultural/political trends, but that they still value the power of collective bargaining (with enormous fucking reason) in establishing and agreeing working conditions.

(And don't think I'm getting all Commie here. I think people should have the right to individually sort out their working conditions. If the blokes who work out on the mines in WA want to work two week 12 hour a day 7 day a week shifts on, then two weeks completely off type arrangements as most do, that's all good by me. But that should be something they choose and OPT OUT of the basic agreed holiday levels etc)


I haven't had holidays in my entire life, and I don't think anyone in my generation (late twenties) has. Public servans in their 40s or 50s get a lot of vacations, but average proles and middle class office drones have shit contracts and don't get any holidays.

Fortunately complete unemployment is coming so we won't have to worry about overworking.


Hilariously, this morning at our editorial meeting the boss told everyone they have to take all their holidays before the end nof the year.

I'd forgotten that in Oz you can accumulate your holidays year to year.