By Mike Adler
Today, June 1, Queen’s Park shuts for the summer. It’s the last day before fall for the Liberal government to say they’re reforming Ontario’s labour laws, and raising minimum wage to $15.
As of this writing, I don’t know what the government announced or hasn’t. I know people in the $15 and Fairness campaign made every day count.
They’ve already done more than politicians thought they could.
So many of us are stuck in precarious and part-time jobs. For two years, campaigners seemed to be everywhere, on streetcars and street corners, reaching people who fit that description.
They’ve demanded $15 an hour, paid sick days, and an end to exploitation by temp agencies. They practically remade Ontario’s labour movement.
They were poised a week ago to get serious labour reform, not because government suddenly saw the light, as the Workers’ Action Centre’s Deena Ladd says, but because people fought for it.
One was Mohammad Sarkar, a community action leader for Access Alliance - that’s one of his three part-time jobs - in Scarborough’s Oakridge and East York’s Crescent Town.
He’s met fellow immigrants who wait in vain to get called to work, or are sent home after an hour or two, or get $6 or $7 an hour at a grocery or convenience store.
They need rent money, but without paid sick days, Sarkar says, many go to work sick, or pay a further price in back pain, or repetitive strain injuries.
Malka Paracha, a food service supervisor at York University, “was an anti-union person” a while ago. But then a union, along with students and faculty, helped York’s servers stand up and win $15 an hour and full benefits.
“It is 200 per cent possible. We did it,” says Paracha.
The Changing Workplaces Review recommendations are a mixed bag. Campaigners knew Ontario’s Chamber of Commerce would call their reforms a job killer, but they kept pushing the government for the full package. If it wasn’t introduced by June 1, perhaps it would come this fall.
If MPPs expect this to stop, they’re wrong.
“If they don’t listen,” Ladd says, “they will hear it at the ballot box.”
By John Laforet
Minimum wage workers in Ontario will be earning 31.5 per cent more by 2019 for doing the same jobs they are today. Not surprisingly, many business owners are concerned about the implications this massive increase in their costs will have on their business.
I've always believed that anyone who is prepared to work full time should be guaranteed a life outside of poverty. As an employer, I've learned that money is an excellent lubricant for life. Employees who are properly compensated and alleviated from outside financial stress are better able to focus on ensuring success of the business they work for.
Because our average employee earns nearly three times the legally mandated minimum wage and has extended medical benefits with no copay or deductible, I do not anticipate we will feel much of an impact by this change. Our only exposure to this will be increasing the rate we pay our interns, who already earn more than any current minimum wage rate anywhere in the country.
The biggest challenges business owners will face with Ontario's move to massively increase the minimum wage is how to adjust their business models, sales and marketing strategies to effectively respond to it.
I genuinely believe most employers aren't scrooges who are trying to squeeze nickels and dimes out of their workers to pad their bank accounts. They value a job based on the expected economic output of the position, level of skill required and the other costs associated with staffing, managing and training related to that role. Employers are responsible for creating long-term viability and cash flow stability, and achieve this by weighing value against expense constantly.
Small businesses are especially vulnerable to the minimum-wage increase, as they are less likely to have the financial resources to withstand any hit to profitability that follows, and the dividends small businesses churn out are used to make the mortgage payment, send kids to school and support families.
Employers have six months to react before the first increase happens, and there are a number of steps businesses can take to ensure they are stronger for it.
Employers need to ensure the work employees produce has a comparable increase in value.
Here are four steps all small businesses can take over the next 149 business days before the first big increase comes into force, to get their business ready:
1. Increase productivity of employees
If wages are increasing by over 30 per cent over the course the next 18 months, employers need to ensure the work employees produce has a comparable increase in value. Failing to do this will result in a loss of profitability.
Employers can increase productivity of employees by reviewing workflow processes to cut out inefficiencies, reviewing the effectiveness of technology and explore opportunities to automate lower value aspects of employment.
2. Review your business plan and financial model
Determine whether current staffing levels and your pricing strategy are viable with labour cost increases and adjust as necessary. This assumes you actually have a business plan and have done financial modelling already. If you don't, the first order of business is to develop one based on your historical data. Understanding your numbers is key to ensuring your business achieves sustainable, predictable financial health.
Labour expenses are usually the highest line item of most businesses. Taking your historical financial data and re-forecasting your expenses with the increased labour costs your business will experience when the minimum wage increase is fully implemented will help you understand the impact the minimum wage increase will have on your cash flow.
If it puts you under water or unacceptably lowers your profitability, additional revenue and expense forecasts will be necessary to determine what steps are needed to grow your business to where you want it to be.
3. Aggressively grow your sales now
And do so before labour costs increase and begin adding cash flow pressure. Use this potential risk to your cash flow as an opportunity to grow your business to meet the challenge. It is unlikely your team is currently running on all cylinders and a large part of that problem often relates to fluctuations in business traffic.
Getting a better understanding of areas of opportunity for sales growth and driving additional demand during times when your employees are least productive will increase your revenue without increasing your costs.
When attempting a 25 per cent or more increase in sales, it is always wise to work with a professional to develop a marketing plan that is capable of delivering the result you need.
Virtually every business is capable of increasing their sales.
4. Be prepared to adjust pricing of your products and services
You will need to make up for any cash flow impact you're not able to address through productivity and sales volume increases. Virtually every business is capable of increasing their sales, but if you decide growth is not the solution you're prepared to invest in (and increasing productivity doesn't take you far enough), the last resort will be to adjust your pricing to increase revenue and improve cash flow.
We've routinely worked with companies that have undertaken a hybrid of marketing and business plan models to increase margins and sales simultaneously. We have consistently found that properly communicated price increases that focus on your unique sales proposition are very successful in delivering higher margins without impacting customer loyalty.
By Henri Giroux
“It’s a pretty good day for workers across Ontario, and I’m particularly thankful for all the hard work our team has accomplished in the two years since we started educating, organizing, and mobilizing for labour reform,” says Henri Giroux, president of the North Bay and District labour Council.
“We’re pleased with the announcement of an 18-month transition to a $15 minimum wage, because precarious, part-time and low-wage earners are working on the edge,” says Giroux.
“It’s all about economic fairness and economic justice, and when we help low earners with an opportunity to live a more dignifying life — donate to charity, save for college, buy birthday presents — we not only grow our economy, we foster a safer community with greater vitality.
The $15 announcement is good news. But the Ontario government needs to follow through with a complete modernization of the labour laws in Ontario. Joining a union is the fairest way out of poverty and the surest way to economic prosperity, the council says. Unionized workers enjoy equal pay for equal work, time off to care for sick family, and negotiated holiday time to enjoy life.
Unions raise the standards for everyone by allowing for fairer wealth distribution. Unions help generations of families make remarkable investments in communities, steadily, surely, and fairly.
Unions help families invest in the lives of their children, and their children’s children, by enabling post-secondary education and quality training — all things necessary to earn enough stability to buy residential properties and pay important property taxes. The earning, saving, and investing power of working people is the engine of the economy.
“Hearing that part-time workers could earn equal pay as compared to their full-time counterparts, and that laws may force employers to use fairer scheduling practices, these things are steps in the right direction,” says Giroux.
“Employers have been exploiting part-timers for decades and it’s time we make life fairer for everyone, not just for the profits of corporations.”
By Mike Adler
Chamber warns of 'unintended consequences', pro-labour coalition counters 'trickle down economics has not worked'
In Toronto’s downtown Regent Park neighbourhood, news that Ontario’s Liberal government was moving to a $15 minimum wage left people happy and, in some cases, speechless, says a local organizer.
“All together, we made it,” Nadira Begum, part of a campaign pushing the province for labour reforms, added on Tuesday.
“There is a big difference in people’s lives.”
For more than five years, the married mother of three has juggled three part-time jobs with no benefits.
Though some Regent Park residents thought it a waste of time, Begum and others went to rallies and pressured their MPP, Glen Murray.
Now that Premier Kathleen Wynne has committed to some of what campaigners wanted, Begum said, more actions are planned, because people know politicians say things and forget them.
“We want to see it real,” she explained.
The $15 and Fairness movement sparked concern in business groups, including the Toronto and Region Board of Trade, which called the proposed move to $15 an hour “drastic” and said it appeared to be “a wholly political decision.”
The move, which will raise the current minimum wage of $11.40 an hour to $14 on Jan. 1 and $15 a year later, will add costs to everyday goods and services, and force Toronto employers either to let employees go, cut hours and close shop altogether, said Karl Baldauf, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s policy and government relations vice president.
“The notion that these policies will be seen as popular, I certainly question that,” he said Tuesday.
The province’s labour market needs responsible and “evidence-based” policy changes, Baldauf argued, “and that isn’t what we saw from the government today.”
The Chamber called for third-party economic analysis of each change to avoid “unintended consequences” that will hurt Ontario’s economy.
Now, the group will do economic research the government hasn’t done, Baldauf said, partly so it can better speak to the province about lowering corporate and small business tax rates to offset the added costs.
Rabbi Shalom Schachter, the Toronto Board of Rabbis representative on the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, said citizens should be glad the government is trying to reduce economic inequality. They need to speak up and let the Wynne Liberals know it should be a priority in the fall session.
“We’ve been waiting for an update in these laws for decades now,” while the gap between rich and poor has grown, he said. “Trickle down economics has not worked.”
Schachter was one of nearly 200 faith leaders who signed a statement supporting the goals of the $15 and Fairness movement, believing, as he later said, they play a role in moving Ontario toward a more just society.
The faith coalition hoped for $15 this year; getting it in 2019 is “the longest delay we would be prepared to accept,” Schachter said.
Some businesses welcomed the promised changes to wages and employment standards, believing they’ll lead to more spending power, which will support local businesses in turn. “It’s putting good-paying jobs back into the community,” said Amanda Terfloth, co-ordinator of the Better Way to Build the Economy Alliance.
The group’s 27 businesses range from four to 7,000 employees, she said.
By Graeme McNaughton
After more than two years, the provincial government has released a report detailing what needs to change in Ontario workplaces.
The report, dubbed the Changing Workplaces Review, makes 173 recommendations on improving work conditions in the province, including allowing more professions to unionize, going harder on rule-breaking employers and expanding entitlements and job protections for vacation and family leave.
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, however, says she does not believe the report addresses the complaints that she has been hearing.
“It’s missing, I think, a lot of what we’ve been hearing from our community groups and partners. There’s a lot that we don’t see in it, and we’re hoping that can still be a part of the changes that end up happening in Ontario,” she tells The Oshawa Express.
“We’re glad to finally have the conversations, though, and have the review completed and know what it is that we’re talking about in terms of specifics.”
Among the things missing from the report were easing the pathway to creating unions or establishing a higher minimum wage, according to the Oshawa MPP.
“We’ve been calling for a $15 minimum wage in no uncertain terms. We’ve been hearing that call for a fair wage…from community members for years. To not see that as one of their recommendations maybe was surprising. But this review, while welcome, it falls short in those important areas,” she says.
“The $15 minimum wage, paid sick days, it should be easier to join a union. When we look at the landscape of precarious work and knowing that union jobs with predictable and fair wages and benefits, for that pathway into the middle class, we need to make it easier to join a union.”
In a statement, Kevin Flynn, the province’s labour minister, says the Liberal government will be taking the recommendations put forward in the report to changing how people work in Ontario.
“Ontario’s economy is strong and growing. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 16 years, and our GDP growth continues to lead all G7 countries. But with the rapid modernization of the workplace and new technology, people across Ontario are feeling less secure. We have heard from many people that they are no longer able to count on full-time, secure work to provide for themselves and their families. Many people work multiple jobs, on contract or in unstable positions with unreliable hours or pay,” he states.
“What is clear to me, and to our government, after reading the report is that responsible change can ensure that every hard-working person in our province has the chance to reach their full potential. Fairness and decency must continue to be the defining values of our workplaces. No person in Ontario should ever feel like they can’t get ahead.”
According to national media report, the provincial government intended to table legislation on Tuesday, May 30, with proposed changes in response to the Changing Workplaces Review. The details of that legislation was unavailable prior to press time.
Lorne Coe, the MPP for Whitby-Oshawa, declined to comment on the report, saying he wanted to wait until legislation is introduced before speaking on the matter.
CBC News: Ontario's minimum wage raise a 'small business killer,' say critics, but for many it means feeling 'human'
By Shanifa Nasser
'Now I can feel a little more like how you feel,' says woman who works multiple jobs
Erendira Bravo works four jobs and none are full time.
For the last 12 years, she's juggled factory work, cleaning, construction and has also worked as a handywoman at people's homes.
"And if I find something else, I will do it, of course," she said.
A precarious worker in Toronto, Bravo is one of those applauding Ontario's plan to increase the provincial minimum wage to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2019. The announcement, made Tuesday, is one piece of a larger set of labour reforms under the proposed Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.
- Ontario becomes 2nd province to go ahead with $15 an hour minimum wage
- How a $15 minimum wage would affect Ontario
The act would see equal pay for part-time and full-time workers working the same jobs, rules to prevent employers from misclassifying employees as "independent contractors." It would also allow 10 personal emergency leave days per year — two of which would be paid — and provide greater protection to shift workers, among other changes.
'I almost believed that I was not human'
That's all good news to Bravo, who says the endless days of working on-call, and taking virtually any shift she could get to make ends meet, took a toll on her personal life and family — and had her questioning her self-worth.
"At one point I almost believed that I was not human," she said. "Until today, that was my reality."
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Tuesday's announcement by Premier Kathleen Wynne followed a report commissioned by the government.
The results, released last week, included some 173 recommendations addressing precarious work. The report didn't examine the minimum wage, but Wynne said Tuesday the increase from the current $11.40 minimum will make a difference in the lives of millions of Ontarians.
Indeed, 1.5 million workers in Ontario earn less than $15 an hour.
Move could wipe out profit margins, says restaurant group
But news of the changes is also drawing sharp concern, largely from independent business owners and the food service industry, who argue the reforms will in fact hurt their bottom lines and ultimately slow job growth.
Fred Luk, 61, who owns a handful of restaurants in downtown Toronto, calls Tuesday's changes "the biggest small business killer in the history of Ontario."
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He's just one of the owners of 37,000 restaurants, bars, and other food service establishments who are part of Restaurants Canada, an organization that says the 31.6 per cent jump in wages by January 2019 "betrays the trust" of the industry.
Restaurants Canada says the move will cost an additional $47,000 per year, which the group says would wipe out the profit margin of the average restaurant in the province.
Luk wasn't always a restaurateur. He started as a bartender slinging beers, and says he worked his way up to manager, and eventually owner.
"At the end of the day that's how the cycle goes in our industry," said Luk, saying many of his own staff didn't even know how to cook when they were first hired.
"We are a training ground for employees," he said of the restaurant business, saying the industry can't be expected to operate in the same way as bigger businesses and instead prepares unskilled workers for future careers.
Luk says Tuesday's changes mean he'll have to consider whether he can afford to keep his doors open.
Surviving means slashing jobs, say some
The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses goes further, saying wage hikes will mean job losses as small business owners are forced to make "difficult choices," including cutting hours and jobs.
In a statement Tuesday, the organization demanded that Ontario "stop punishing small businesses with higher costs they can't afford," while "rewarding big unions." One of the changes announced was the extension of card-based certification to temporary workers, making it easier for them to unionize.
Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown echoed those concerns, calling for a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed legislation before any further steps are taken.
"We want to be absolutely sure that this is not going to diminish our ability to have job creation in the province of Ontario," Brown said.
But at least one small business owner sees the changes as good for his bottom line.
Helmi Ansari, CEO of a company that exports tea and coffee products and operates out of Guelph and Cambridge, Ont., pays his 12 employees between $16.05 and $16.50 an hour — what he says is the living wage in the two cities.
Living wages good for bottom line, says business owner
"If we had our staff being part of the working poor, how could we expect them to have full engagement in the business?" Ansari said applauding the announcement. "They'd be engaged in thinking how they're going to pay the bills and put food on the table."
Ansari acknowledges the changes will cost businesses in the short-term and require some adjusting, but he maintains small business can and should pay a living wage.
"It's been good for business," he said.
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Chris Buckley of the Ontario Federation of Labour also applauded the changes, calling them "steps in the right direction." But he said the province can go further, for example, by mandating paid and job-protected leave for survivors of domestic sexual violence.
New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath says the changes are a long time coming, taking aim at Wynne for what she said was simply political posturing. Real concern for the well-being of Ontarians, she said, would include a universal health-care plan that would see prescription drugs free for anyone -- not just those under the age of 25.
But for emergency room physician Dr. Kate Hayman, Tuesday's announcement is "fantastic news."
Hayman says she often sees patients afraid to take a day off sick for fear of losing wages or even their jobs. The two days of paid sick leave, she says, are a good start and she'd like to see even more.
Bravo, the woman who works multiple jobs to make ends meet, acknowledges she'd like to see more too. "It's not all that I want, it's not all that I deserve," she said.
But now she says she can imagine actually calling in sick or taking a day for personal errands.
"Now I feel a little bit more in the first world. Now I can feel a little more like how you feel."
By Michael Swan
Even as the Ontario government moved to enact new labour laws and increase the minimum wage to $15, experts agree there is no quick fix to protecting workers from the threat of poverty.
Good Shepherd executive director Br. David Lynch reports that he often sees people with jobs eating at the Queen Street shelter in Toronto. The Ontario Association of Food Banks reports that even though employment in the province is back at 2008 levels, food bank use is still seven to 14 per cent higher than before the last recession started.
Last October federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the next generation would have to get used to “job churn.”
“We also need to think about, ‘How do we train and retrain people as they move from job to job to job?’ Because it’s going to happen. We have to accept that,” Morneau said.
More than half of adult workers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area now work temporary, contract or part-time jobs. “Non-standard work” – temp agency gigs, self-employment, limited contracts, multiple part-time jobs – has grown twice as fast in Ontario as regular jobs, steadily increasing by 2.3 per cent per year between 1997 and 2015.
A job was once the bedrock of Canada’s social contract. In exchange for their labour and their loyalty, working people got a chance to build a life, educate their children, own a home and retire in dignity. The contract has been broken, said Redemptorist Fr. Paul Hansen.
“We’re at a new moment in history,” Hansen said.
Hansen advises the Ontario Assembly of Catholic Bishops on social justice issues. Come their June 1 meeting, he expects the bishops will be talking about many of the issues brought up by a wide-ranging provincial report on work standards called “The Changing Workplaces Review.”
More than two years in the making, with 12 public sessions, over 200 presentations and 300 written submissions, plus another 280 submissions that followed up from an interim report, the Changing Workplaces Review makes 173 recommendations. It proposes sweeping changes to the Employment Standards Act, the Labour Relations Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Premier Kathleen Wynne announced May 30 that the province’s minimum wage will rise from $11.40 an hour to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018 and to $15 on Jan. 1, 2019. Other proposed changes include equal pay for part-time workers performing same duties as full-time workers, and increasing minimum vacation entitlement to three weeks a year after five years with the same employer.
The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition and at least 139 individual faith leaders had signed onto a union-led campaign demanding protections for workers in unstable jobs and a $15 minimum wage.
With the help of the Atkinson Foundation, Kindred Credit Union, Ryerson University and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Ontario Living Wage Network has figured out that to survive a full-time worker needs anywhere from $15.42 per hour in the Waterloo Region to $18.52 an hour in Toronto. The idea that employers should pay a living wage has been a key teaching of the Church, dating back to Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum.
Ontario’s current minimum wage of $11.40 per hour is 38.4 per cent below a living wage in Toronto.
“When we look at poverty statistics, there are an awful lot of people who are working and are living below the poverty line,” said Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn. “There’s a growing number of people who actually find work and then they can’t – because they can’t get the hours and there are very few benefits and also the pay is so low – they can’t make a go of it.”
In 1891 Pope Leo was worried that working people were drifting away from the faith and from any real ties to their communities under the relentless pressure of the industrial revolution. Post-industrial society – the information economy, the green economy, the sharing economy, etc. – is posing a similar challenge, said Gunn.
“If the faith communities don’t express strong opinions and move our constituency forward, as well as political leadership, then we’ve missed the boat,” he said. “We’ve lost a prophetic opportunity.”
Sr. Pauline Lally of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul in Kingston, Ont., assumes her Church will be on the side of low-wage workers in unstable jobs.
“It’s the Christian thing to do,” Lally told The Catholic Register. “If we remember the social teaching of the Church, if we remember Jesus and how he dealt with people and their dignity, Pope Leo clearly brought to our attention in that first encyclical the rights and the dignity of the worker…. Look at all the contract work and the sneaky way they (employers) do things.”
The idea that bishops and Church leaders shouldn’t take political positions doesn’t cut it with Lally.
“People need to realize that poverty is political. It’s not by chance that many people are poor. If the minimum wage is below the poverty line, of course it’s political,” she said.
Union president Ann Hawkins thinks Pope Leo’s 1891 declaration that workers have a right to organize and negotiate with their employers is as relevant today in the post-industrial economy as it was in the middle of the industrial revolution.
“The present-day Pope has been very clear on several occasions on the rights of workers and the importance of unions,” said the president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. “I can’t answer for the Canadian Church. I haven’t seen a response from them yet.”
Hawkins recognizes that unionized Ontario teachers actually have it pretty good, but her union is worried about people who have been effectively shut out of stable, unionized work.
“We have a good number of hard-won rights, however the students and families and neighbours and other workers around-about us do not enjoy the same measures of dignity and security in their work as we do,” she said.
Overall unionization rates in Canada dropped from 37.6 per cent in 1981 to 28.8 per cent in 2014. But the rate is only that high because of high unionization rates in the public sector. In the private sector, union jobs are vanishingly rare. From 1997 to 2015 union jobs in Ontario dropped from 19.2 per cent to 14.3 per cent in the private sector. In large part, this change reflects the disappearance of factory floors and large employers.
Things that companies used to hire workers to do are now done by networks of smaller businesses and independent contractors who feed into the big company’s supply chain. When employers talk about flat and flexible hierarchies that respond quicker to market conditions, they’re also talking about paying people less. Workers in insecure, contract jobs make an average of 46 per cent less that secure, full-time workers doing the same work, according to a McMaster University study.
A 2015 survey by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited found nearly half of Canadian businesses planned to fill any vacancies with contract, part-time or outsourced labour over the next three to five years. A Ryerson University study last year found that 42 per cent of Canadian jobs are at high risk of being automated out of existence.
“That’s a huge transformation,” said the director of the justice, peace and integrity of creation office for the Sisters of Providence, Jamie Swift. “It certainly is a sea change in the nature of work in advanced capitalist countries… We’ve been floundering and not willing to recognize the threat to popular prosperity or, if you will, the democratization of the economy that resulted from working class struggles over the past 150 years.”
As people become less attached to their jobs, they become less attached to their communities or any sense of common cause with the rest of society. The result is people “utterly disillusioned with politics as usual,” said Swift. “They start to be open to some of the outrageous, nativist, right-wing, populist ideas that have been arising.”
In Swift’s view, the reforms proposed in the Changing Workplaces report are pretty mild.
“I hardly think reform of labour standards regulation in Ontario constitutes a Bolshevik undertaking,” he said. “Those regulations need to be strengthened and enforced. Decent employers would have nothing to fear from that.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has reacted with shock to some of the 173 Changing Workplaces recommendations that would make it easier to form unions and would toughen up Ministry of Labour enforcement of basic health, safety and job standards regulations. Such changes will “disproportionately impact Ontario’s small businesses, who lack the financial resources to take on further regulation and costs,” said the CFIB in a press release.
The Ontario Federation of Labour is equally disappointed in the final report. They had hoped for the re-instatement of card-based certification for unions and a ban on replacement workers during strikes. In an economy that spreads workers all over a widely dispersed supply chain, where people are increasingly working from home and where employers communicate with their workers online and through phone apps, a law that says you have to gather everybody in a union hall and hold a live vote to certify a union guarantees that fewer and fewer workers will be unionized, argues the OFL.
“It’s in the interest of society as a whole to try to address in a sustained and vigorous manner the savage inequalities that are looming in our society,” said Swift.
By Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Robert Benzie
Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement Tuesday as part of a major overhaul of provincial laws. Minimum wage will jump from $11.40 an hour to $14 next year.
Millions of Ontario’s most vulnerable workers are getting a raise.
The minimum wage will jump from $11.40 an hour to $14 next year and $15 in 2019, says Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Wynne made the announcement Tuesday as part of a major overhaul of provincial laws that also includes measures to make it easier for workers to join a union and increasing annual paid vacation from two weeks to three weeks.
Reading from a teleprompter and surrounded by a hand-picked group of labour activists and workers from different sectors in a slick TV talk-show-like setting, the premier boasted the wage hike is “the largest increase in our province’s history.”
“Right now, 10 per cent of workers in our province earn the minimum wage of $11.40. Thirty per cent earn less than $15 an hour. That’s millions of people, many of them supporting a family on a wage that just doesn’t go far enough,” she said to cheers from the assembled crowd at the campaign-style event.
The wage will rise to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018 — six months before what is expected to be a hotly contested Ontario election — and then to the $15 mark that labour groups have long demanded on Jan. 1, 2019.
After that, wage increases will again be tied to the rate of inflation.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who has been crusading for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, said it is good news for workers.
But Horwath accused the Liberals of cynical electioneering “for their own political fortunes.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown refused to say if he would allow the minimum wage to rise to $15-an-hour if his party wins the June 7, 2018 election.
“Everyone wants to have higher wages, but when a worker wakes up in the morning they need a job,” said Brown, demanding the government produce a “cost-benefit analysis” to justify the hike.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business warned “small businesses, who don’t share the larger profit margins of big business, will be forced to make difficult choices, including cutting hours and jobs.”
“We are shocked and appalled that the government is broadsiding small business owners with a 32 per cent increase in the minimum wage within only one-and-a-half years,” said the federation’s provincial director Julie Kwiecinski.
But Toronto Mayor John Tory, long a proponent of a rising minimum wage, said “it seems like they have struck a reasonable balance” between the need of workers and of business.
The Liberal government will also guarantee that workers earn equal pay for equal work, regardless of their full-time, part-time or temporary employee status.
“We will ensure that part-time workers receive equal pay for equal work. The reality is that more companies are choosing to hire part-time employees. That in itself is not a bad thing,” said Wynne.
“But it has in some cases created an unfair workplace in which some are paid less than others who do exactly the same job. Paying people the same wage for the same work is the very essence of fairness,” she said.
“And that is what we as a government will insist on from companies and other organizations doing business in our province.”
As well, the minimum vacation entitlements for employees with five or more years at a company will rise from two weeks annually to three.
“You know, Ontario is behind other provinces in guaranteeing better vacation rights. It’s time to do what’s right and what’s fair,” the premier said.
The government will also “establish fairer rules for scheduling — rules that give greater certainty to workers while maintaining flexibility for employers.”
“For instance, your employer will now be required to pay you three hours’ wages if they cancel your shift with less than 48 hours’ notice.”
Currently, firms are only penalized if they cancel shifts after an employee has arrived for work.
Wynne’s government will also give workers the right to take up to 10 days of personal emergency leave each year, two of them paid.
Right now, there is no guaranteed paid leave for those coping with a family emergency.
Enforcement will also be strengthened, including the addition of 150 new workplace inspectors — doubling the Ministry of Labour’s current complement.
“We heard that enforcement is key to making this work — so we’re stepping that up,” said Wynne.
“We will modernize the rules around creating a union. That includes the extension of card-based certification to three vulnerable sectors — temporary workers, building services workers and home- and community-care workers.”
Unifor President Jerry Dias, Canada’s most powerful private-sector union leader, said the measures are “a bold first step to modernize Ontario’s employment laws.”
“The government has demonstrated that it has heard the concerns of Ontario’s most vulnerable workers and is now committed to taking action,” said Dias, whose union represents 160,000 Ontario workers, including those at the Toronto Star.
Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff noted “the Ontario economy is strong and these changes will only make it stronger by supporting workers and their families to make ends meet, decreasing turnover and increasing productivity.”
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the reforms stem from the 419-page Changing Workplaces Review, which was released last week after two years of consultation and research.
That review by special advisers C. Michael Mitchell and John C. Murray made 173 recommendations on improving work conditions in Ontario.
While the government won’t enact all of them, Flynn promised the legislation would be introduced this week and enshrined in law by 2018.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce expressed concern about what it called “unproven sweeping reforms” and warned of “unintended consequences, including job losses, rising consumer costs and economic hardship.”
Rabbi Shalom Schachter, one of 200 faith leaders across the province who have endorsed legislative change to protect vulnerable leaders, called the reforms’ consultation process “extensive.”
“Workers have waited long enough,” he said. “It’s time to have those changes implemented today.”