By Christine Sharma
An outstanding Liberal promise for minimum wage to rise to $15 is under pressure from multiple sides - from the newly elected PC government, to minimum wage workers, to businesses, and beyond.
While the province’s PC government looks to cancel the next minimum wage increase, some residents, community groups, and labour councils are planning to fight back this weekend.
A group called $15 & Fairness is organizing rallies across the province on Saturday September 15, 2018.
This marks a 15-week countdown to Ontario’s next minimum wage increase to $15, which comes into effect on January 1, 2019.
Over 20 provincial ridings will see local actions on Saurday.
Those coming out to the rallies are “delivering a message to local MPPs asking them to stand with the people of Ontario against the attempt by corporate lobbyists to rollback Ontario's new labour laws,” according to recent statement from $15 & Fairness.
“Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Ontarians (66%) support a $15 minimum wage — including 62% of small business owners — Big Business is leading a campaign to cancel the $15 minimum wage and roll back the 2 paid sick days and other laws that came into effect this year.”
Wages underwent a major hike in 2018, from $11.60 to $14 per hour. The increase set for 2019 is to be followed by annual increases at the rate of inflation.
Here’s the rally is happening in Oakville:
10 a.m.-12 p.m. — Oakville Farmers Market (240 North Service Road West)
“Join us to talk to our neighbours about their rights, collect signatures on our petition and remind people to contact Oakville MPP Stephen Crawford and Oakville North Burlington MPP Effie Triantafilopoulos,” reads the statement.
What do you think of the minimum wage hike in Halton?
By Daniel Tencer
The numbers show what many experts have argued: Minimum wage hikes don't derail strong economies.
Many experts predicted that Ontario's hefty minimum wage hike to $14 an hour at the start of this year would harm the province's job creation.
TD Bank issued a study suggesting the move could cost the province some 90,000 jobs. Industry group Restaurants Canada warned the wage hike, along with other labour law reforms, would put 185,000 jobs at risk, including 17,000 in food services.
Some employers seemed to get downright nasty to their workers in the wake of the wage hike. Take, for instance, reports of some Tim Hortons franchisees cutting paid breaks and benefits for workers.
But six months later, there is no sign of the wage hike having negatively impacted job creation in Ontario. The province added some 60,000 jobs in July (though many of those were in the public sector) and its unemployment rate fell to 5.4 per cent, according to Statistics Canada data — the lowest rate in 18 years.
"While Ontario's minimum wage increase had the expected effect of lifting Canada's average wage growth this year, the advertised negative impact on employment is less apparent," National Bank of Canada economist Krishen Rangasamy wrote in a client note.
"Employers seem reluctant to part with their now more expensive workers perhaps due to reported labour shortages," Rangasamy added, "although the persistence of strong sales and profits could also explain the resilience of employment."
Indeed, there are labour shortages all across Canada's economy these days.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reports there were nearly 400,000 jobs in Canada that had been unfilled for four months or more in the second quarter of this year. Ontario accounts for nearly 155,000 of those vacant jobs.
The 3.1-per-cent job vacancy rate is the highest since the CFIB started tracking these numbers in 2004.
But how have things played out for minimum-wage workers in Ontario?
We looked at two industries that rely particularly heavily on minimum wage workers: Accommodation and food services, and retail and wholesale trade.
In accommodation and food services, Ontario added an impressive 14,000 jobs since the $14-an-hour minimum wage came into force in January, an increase of 2.3 per cent.
That's stronger job growth for that category than across Canada as a whole, which saw a 1.5 per cent increase over that time.
In wholesale and retail, Ontario lost jobs — down 0.8 per cent since the start of the year. But Canada as a whole saw jobs drop by a much steeper 1.8 per cent over that time. In this category, Ontario is still outperforming the Canadian average.
Of course, what we can't know is how job growth in Ontario would have looked had the minimum wage hike not happened; conceivably, it may have been even stronger.
But the data suggests that the minimum wage hike didn't derail Ontario's economic momentum. It reflects what some economists have argued for a long time: Minimum wage hikes have little impact on job growth. Other factors in the economy play a larger role.
In Ontario's case, that may have to do lately with the very strong population growth the province has seen over the past year — up about 1.8 per cent, according to a recent analysis from Bank of Montreal. That is creating a lot of new demand in the economy.
The previous provincial Liberal government had planned to raise the minimum wage again at the beginning of 2019, to $15 an hour.
But the new Progressive Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford has vowed to roll back that hike. The government has vowed instead to eliminate provincial income taxes for minimum wage earners.
By Rachelle Younglai
Ontario’s jobless rate hit an 18-year low in July, as the country’s largest economy continued to churn out jobs despite this year’s hefty hike in the minimum wage.
When the province raised the mandatory hourly rate 21 per cent to $14 in January, businesses and their trade groups warned of employment losses. But, six months later, Statistics Canada data show that has not happened.
In fact, Ontario’s labour market is on fire.
The province added 61,000 new jobs in July and the jobless rate fell from 5.9 per cent to 5.4 per cent − the lowest level since 2000, according to the Statscan monthly Labour Force Survey released on Friday. Over all, the country added 54,000 net new jobs in July. The national jobless rate fell from 6 per cent to 5.8 per cent, reverting back to where it has been for most of the year.
Although most of the employment gains this year have been in the public sector and the latest spurt of new jobs were part-time, analysts suggested Ontario’s economy withstood the sharp wage increase. Ontario’s paid employment has increased at the fastest pace since 2010, according to National Bank Financial.
“From a very big picture view, the Ontario job market is holding up relatively well given the shock of a plus 21 per cent increase in minimum wages,” said Douglas Porter, chief economist with Bank of Montreal.
One sector dominated with minimum-wage workers – accommodation and food services – has expanded this year. Although the sector lost 1,900 positions in July, it has added a total of 7,100 since the higher minimum wage went into effect in January.
Other low-paying sectors have also hired more employees in the first half of the year. Transportation and warehousing gained 13,500 jobs and business, building and other support services increased by a similar amount.
“It is tough to find a lot of evidence that employment has been negatively impacted,” said Josh Nye, senior economist with Royal Bank of Canada. “In terms of the minimum-wage hike, it has come at a good time when the economy is able to absorb that. Demand for labour is so strong and labour market conditions are quite tight. Employers don’t have much of a choice,” he said.
On the downside, another sector with low-paying jobs – wholesale and retail trade – has shrunk in Ontario. However, the losses are not unique to Ontario. Across the country, that sector has shed more than 50,000 positions in the first half of the year.
Ontario’s minimum hourly wage was due to climb to $15 next year. But the recently elected Premier, Doug Ford, had campaigned on a promise to keep the mandatory rate at $14 and allow subsequent increases at the rate of inflation.
The minimum-wage hike has helped boost paycheques. In Ontario, the average hourly rate increased 4.3 per cent to $27.16 over July of last year. Across Canada, average hourly earnings rose by 3.2 per cent to $26.61.
“Employers seem reluctant to part with their now more expensive workers perhaps due to reported labour shortages,” National Bank economist Krishen Rangasamy said in a note. “The persistence of strong sales and profits could also explain the resilience of employment,” the note said.
As for fallout from the recent trade war between the United States and Canada, it is difficult to ascertain whether the weakness in factory work is because of uncertainty over free trade in North America, sluggish auto production or the bevy of tariffs the United States and Canada have placed on each other’s goods, including U.S. tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel.
“It may be a little early. But one can’t help but wonder if that is not at play," Mr. Porter said.
Manufacturing shrunk by 18,000 positions last month, although the number of jobs in the sector is up since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January, 2017.
By Greg Quinn, Bloomberg
In spite of some predictions to the contrary, Ontario’s sharp minimum wage increase hasn’t killed its labour market.
Business owners and economists fretted the 21 per cent wage hike, which took effect Jan. 1, would cause a slowdown.
But the latest employment report shows the province’s jobless rate fell to 5.4 per cent in July, the lowest since 2000, and lower than every other province except British Columbia.
Ontario’s payrolls jumped 0.8 per cent last month for the biggest gain since 1989, and employment has been climbing since February.
The minimum wage increase stoked controversy: Advocates said lower-income families would benefit from having more disposable income. Critics predicted they would suffer as businesses cut staff and reduced hours.
Owners of grocery stores and restaurants said while the government moved too fast, they would make changes to cushion the blow, such as buying more equipment or raising prices.
Doug Ford, now premier, said tax cuts were a better way to help families, and that argument helped propel his Progressive Conservatives to a June election victory against Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, who brought in the pay increase.
The labour gains suggest companies are coping with higher wage costs because of the strong economy, said Krishen Rangasamy, senior economist at National Bank Financial in Montreal.
“While Ontario’s minimum wage increase had the expected effect of lifting Canada’s average wage growth this year, the advertised negative impact on employment is less apparent,” Rangasamy wrote in a research note.
“Employers seem reluctant to part with their now more expensive workers perhaps due to reported labour shortages, although the persistence of strong sales and profits could also explain the resilience of employment.”
By Shawn Gibson
Local politicians from three different parties met together at Meridian Square today before heading out to the massive crowds of Kempenfest to get signatures that will tell Ontario Premier Doug Ford they do not want his PC government to roll-back the $15 minimum wage.
The campaign, dubbed Fight For $15 and Fairness, is not just an action to keep the minimum wage the way it is, but also to improve the rules related to paid sick days, decent hours and a respectable workplace, say local politicians.
Keenan Aylwin (Green Party candidate), Dan Janssen (NDP candidate) and Michael Speers (former Liberal staffer) joined forces today to gather as many signatures as they can on a topic they all believe in.
Aylwin has long been an advocate for small businesses and those who make them work and feels that the Conservative government in power right now is doing a lot of talking but not acting in support of those who need it.
“We are going around with a petition in support of a $15 minimum wage but also in support of workers throughout the province who truly are under attack by the current provincial government,” said Aylwin.
“There were some struggles when the wages were increased but businesses are adjusting and I think they could handle a further increase as well, but they do need some support from the government; a government that says they support small business but aren’t doing much to do just that," he added.
The signatures will be collected and delivered to local MPPs Doug Downey and Andrea Khanjin in hopes that they will present the petition to the legislature.
As a member of the NDP and someone who is heavily involved with rights for workers, Janssen believes that many Ontarians feel the same as him: that it is important for everyone to be able to make their rent payments and afford the amenities that go with that.
Janssen doesn’t feel the trio will have a problem in spreading the word about their initiative nor in obtaining signatures.
“We’re going to try to get as many signatures as we can get but we’d be satisfied if we get a 100 or 150 today, which I don't think will be a problem due to the stats we’ve seen like a poll recently released that says 66% of Canadians believe that $15 minimum wage is a good thing,” said Janssen.
“This is really important and as someone who is personally involved with the labour movement, I see the benefit in the $15 and Fairness campaign in that it has become a movement and is gaining province wide support with every action and gathering," Janssen noted. "Today is a show of unity with members of three separate parties joining together not for personal gain, but for workers' gain.”
Speers has worked for the Liberal government, was employed by the Minister of Labour and is now a local advocate. He said that having been involved with the government who delivered the minimum wage increase, he knows how beneficial it is and he hopes that everyone will take a look at the positive things involved and not get lost in the negative rhetoric by those opposed.
“I worked for the Minister of Labour when we did Bill 148, so I know all the work that went into it and I know all the work that 15 and Fairness has done as far as pushing it,” said Speers.
“With regards to the people of Barrie, there are a lot of progressive voices out there so when you have the three of us working together, it shows that you can put party allegiances aside and get work done in the community. We’ve done the homework and at the end of the day everyone in this province deserves a decent wage and it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. You can pay this increase and treat employees well and give them all the incentives they need to want to work for you; cutting through the garbage being said by those against this is why we’re out today and spreading the truth.”
For more information on the campaign head to the website at www.15andfairness.org
Sweeping changes by new provincial government include ending cap-and-trade, repealing sex-ed curriculum
Around 150 people gathered outside Queen's Park on Saturday to rally against several changes by the new Ontario government.
Chester Madrazo, one of the organizers, said the morning rally was in support of public services and marginalized people.
Outside the legislature, demonstrators held "15 and Fairness" signs, condemned changes to the provincial curriculum, expressed worry about the environment and showed concern for potential budget cuts to social programs.
Indygo Arscott, 16, spoke against the last-minute decision to cancel curriculum-writing sessions aimed at bringing more Indigenous content into Ontario classrooms.
"While I am only a child, my heart lies with the children of the future," said Arscott to the crowd.
Incorporating Indigenous knowledge and history into the K-12 curriculum is crucial step in reconciliation, Arscott said.
"We have a right to view ourselves ... in education systems. We are a multidimensional people, and we deserve to be recognized as more than our trauma."
Arscott, who will be going into Grade 11, fears that recent education decisions will leave young people "fearful and uninformed."
"You must teach the curriculum you want to reflect the future," Arscott said.
Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare said she's worried the new government will make cuts to childcare.
It took years of consultation and organizing to get the new childcare spaces promised by the previous government, and families are depending on them, Ferns said.
'When I saw the first things that the Ford government was attacking, they're all attacks on children," said Ferns.
"If it's abandoning asylum seekers, those are attacks on families. If it's repealing the sex-ed curriculum, those are attacks on our kids."
Madrazo is troubled by many of Ford's decisions and said Saturday's rally was "just the beginning."
He said there will be starting an online group called Ontarians for Social Progress where people can organize and discuss various issues.
Madrazo added that organizers are not looking at the Ford government as enemies but just want to work together to ensure social programs stand.
By Sarah Mojtehedzadeh
The Ontario government’s hiring freeze has paused plans to double the Ministry of Labour’s complement of enforcement officers charged with investigating wage theft and other workplace abuses.
Legislation passed last November under premier Kathleen Wynne included a promise to hire 175 new employment standards officers in order to inspect one in 10 Ontario workplaces and resolve workplace complaints within 90 days. The pledge came after both worker advocates and some business groups argued the ministry’s enforcement efforts should be improved.
Around 75 of the new officers have already been hired, but the remaining job postings appear to be on hold amid the government-wide hiring freeze the incoming Doug Ford administration ordered last week. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives take power on Friday.
“Until the new government can put in place an expenditure management strategy, the Ontario Public Service is implementing additional expenditure restrictions which includes a freeze on new external hiring, with the exception of essential frontline services,” said Janet Deline, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour.
Currently, the processing time for employment standards claims — which involve issues like unpaid wages, overtime pay, or failure to pay minimum wage — is five months, Deline said.
The ministry did not answer questions from the Star about whether it is meeting its stated goal of inspecting one in 10 workplaces because it is “currently in caretaker mode and cannot comment on future government commitments.”
In 2017/2018, Deline said the ministry conducted 3,507 proactive employment standards inspections. There are 999,766 workplaces in Ontario according to Statistics Canada, although proactive inspections are focused on non-union employers.
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Independent academic research commissioned for a two-year review of the province’s employment laws found that victims of wage theft across Ontario lost out on $28 million from 2011 to 2015 because the Ministry of Labour failed to collect the pay owed to them.
Last year, the government’s rate of recovery when individual workers filed claims for unpaid entitlements was around one-third, according to data obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request.
Proactive inspections, which are initiated at the behest of the ministry rather than workers coming forward to complain, often at the expense of their jobs, have proven to be far more effective in recovering stolen wages. The recovery rate for these investigations, which Bill 148 was meant to expand by hiring more enforcement officers, was almost 100 per cent.
In his five months as a construction site supervisor, Mississauga resident Felix Toro worked 15-hour days, racked up hundreds of hours of overtime, incurred thousands of dollars of business expenses on behalf of his boss, and ended up being owed in excess of $17,700 in unpaid entitlements.
Those were the conclusions a Ministry of Labour investigation landed on in July 2016, which ordered Toro’s employer to pay up. Toro has still not received his money.
For Toro, it meant maxed out credit cards, leaning on friends, and giving up on buying a house with his pregnant wife.
“I came here to work hard. It’s about a good life here where you can raise your children,” says Toro, who trained as a dentist in his native Colombia. “That’s so frustrating for me.”
In a submission to the province’s so-called Changing Workplaces Review, which led to Bill 148, a submission from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce argued that “many of the workplace challenges government is seeking to address can be solved by improving employer and employee awareness of workplace rights and subsequently enforcing, with greater regularity, violations of those rights.”
Deena Ladd of the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre said numerous research studies have shown that “enforcement is critical.”
“You have to make sure that our rights and protections that we rely on in the workplace are not just words on a piece of paper.”
The mood was upbeat at Saturday's minimum wage rally scored by activists as a "vital first blow in the struggle against the Ford government,” but there’s no sugarcoating what a PC majority means for the cause of social justice in Ontario
By Peter Biesterfeld
One anti-poverty group scored last Saturday’s Fight For $15 And Fairness rally as “a vital first blow in the struggle against the Ford government.”
And an impressive showing it was in front of the Ministry of Labour building on University, led by the sounds of Brazilian percussion group Baque de Bamba. They came to march to Queen’s Park – and to tell premier-designate Doug Ford and his government-in-waiting to lay off the Liberals’ Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (Bill 148), which is set raise the minimum wage to $15 in January 2019.
By the time the crowd is ready to head to Queen’s Park, about 2,000 people have gathered under a merciless midday sun. The gathering is sweltering but energized by the turnout, with signs and banners representing union groups and frontline support organizations from as far away as Niagara and Ottawa. From the back of a flatbed a beat boxer and a rap artist lead the demonstrators up University in a syncopated chant: “Minimum wage / under attack / What do we do? / Act up, fight back.”
Near the Queen Victoria statue in front of the Legislature, newly elected NDP MPPs are invited on to a small stage by Black Lives Matter–Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson, one of the keynote speakers at the event. Other guest speakers include Naomi Klein, a driving force behind the movement to build a coalition of labour, environment and social justice organizations, and Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley. The mood is upbeat but there’s no sugarcoating what a majority Ford government means for the cause of social justice in Ontario.
“We did get a bunch of activists elected,” Hudson tells the crowd, “but we can’t just rely on those elected. We have to rely on each other.” Noting the union presence in the crowd, Hudson called on leadership in the province's labour movement to “take all the resources that we have… and start training for a fight. If it takes storming that building over the next four years, we have to be willing to do that.”
Ford has proposed replacing the minimum wage with a $850 tax credit for low-income earners, which those who’ve crunched the numbers agree will mean less money in the pockets of working people. On that issue, Ford’s media manager Jeff Silverstein, replying in an e-mail to NOW, offers up familiar talking points used by Ford on the campaign trail.
“A Doug Ford Ontario PC government understands that the people of Ontario are in need and will implement policies to make life more affordable, putting more money back into taxpayers’ pockets,” Silverstein writes. “As part of that plan, we’re going to make Ontario’s tax system fairer for low-income households by introducing a minimum-wage tax credit. This will save them up to $850 while protecting their job security.”
Silverstein adds that, “full-time minimum wage workers will also save on their hydro bills, gasoline at the pump and natural gas to heat their home or apartment.”
Asked whether Ford’s proposed tax credit would replace minimum wage Bill 148, Ford’s office did not respond.
Pam Frache, coordinator of Fight For $15 And Fairness – the group that first launched the campaign to raise the minimum wage in 2013 when it was frozen at $10.25 – says the current fight is about more than minimum wage. It’s about the need for fair scheduling and equal pay for equal work, regardless of whether you work full-time, part-time or for a temporary agency.
But Ford is only one character on the austerity stage. Rally emcee Deena Ladd, co-founder of the Workers Action Centre, one of the organizers of the event, says “it’s corporations that hide behind those lobby groups that have been actively fighting us every step of the way.” Among them, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which claims the move will lead to a 50 per cent increase in inflation, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has described a $15 minimum wage as a “job killer.” “They are the ones that will be leading this charge,” says Ladd.
Sarah Jama, a community organizer from Hamilton and co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, warns what activists will be up against by reminding the crowd of Mark Wafer, the Tim Horton’s franchisee who made headlines when he argued against Bill 148 in front of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. He said that it would make economic sense to lay off disabled workers first should $15 minimum wage go through. Wafer had told the committee that, “In my business, jobs that don’t necessarily have to be done on a regular basis... those jobs would be the easiest ones to cut first.”
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce also argued against a $15 minimum wage, suggesting that the Ontario government already had “a great many tools and programs to relieve poverty, and could simply utilize and perhaps expand upon those.”
Klein, the last speaker up, acknowledges that the election was a blow, and that people will get hurt in Ford’s Ontario no matter how fierce the resistance.
She paraphrases American historian Howard Zinn, saying that “the really critical thing isn’t who’s sitting in office, but who is sitting in – in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating – those are the things that determine history.”
Klein says that solidarity in the austerity battles to come will arise from building more durable relationships between struggles, before floating the idea of “conscientious objection” to Ford’s proposed tax cuts. She suggests “giving people easy-to-use tools to refuse their tax cuts and direct that money to grassroots mutual support networks instead. We need to start peer-to-peer, people-to-people wealth redistribution if our government won’t do it.”
She adds, “We need to never stop reminding Doug Ford that he has no mandate for economic austerity, no mandate to cut our public services because he never published a platform.”
Enthusiastic applause goes up.
By Nathasha McDonald-Dupuis
La Fédération du travail de l'Ontario, des groupes anti-pauvreté et Black Lives Matter manifestent samedi devant les bureaux du ministère du Travail pour dénoncer le refus de Doug Ford d'augmenter le salaire minimum de 14 $ à 15 $ l'an prochain, comme prévu sous le gouvernement libéral.
Il s'agit de la première manifestation du genre depuis que le chef conservateur a remporté une majorité écrasante aux élections du 7 juin dernier.
La première ministre sortante, Kathleen Wynne, avait promis d'augmenter le salaire minimum à 15 $ l'heure le 1er janvier 2019.
L'ancien chef progressiste-conservateur Patrick Brown avait proposé un compromis, celui d'augmenter le salaire minimum de 25 cents par année, pour atteindre 15 $ l'heure en 2022.
Cette promesse s'est envolée avec l'ascension au pouvoir de Doug Ford. Le salaire minimum se maintiendra désormais à 14 $ l'heure. En contrepartie, le premier ministre désigné promet que ces travailleurs ne paieront pas d'impôt sur le revenu ce qui leur permettrait d'économiser 850 $ par an.
Une mesure que rejettent toutefois les principaux intéressés, parce que s'ils touchaient 15 $ l'heure, ils gagneraient 1500 $ de plus par an.
La différence est énorme pour Yvette Leclair, une agente d'un centre d'appel qui gagne le salaire minimum et qui participe à la manifestation.
Doug Ford vous dites que vous êtes pour le peuple, et bien nous sommes le peuple, dit-elle.
La Fédération du travail de l'Ontario, qui représente une douzaine de syndicats, s'inquiète de cette décision et estime en effet qu'un crédit d'impôt n'aura pas le même impact qu'une hausse de salaire.
Anne Ouellette, une militante syndicale, membre des Travailleurs unis de l'alimentation et du commerce, qui participe elle aussi à la manifestation renchérit : 15 piasses en Ontario ce n'est pas de trop. C'est même nécessaire. Les loyers sont chers, le coût de la vie est très cher. Donc une réduction, ou annuler le 15$ va nuire beaucoup.
Premier-designate Doug Ford's plan to scrap the implementation of the $15 minimum wage has some workers in the province concerned.