As the Ontario government considers raising the minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 in 2019, some local business owners are raising red flags, and say the wage hike could lead to job cuts.
The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (Bill 148), tabled earlier this year, proposes the wage hike that has caught some businesses off guard.
At a Peterborough Chamber of Commerce round table in June, business owners said the wage hike was just too much, too soon.
Sandra Dueck, a policy analyst with the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce said the feedback they received formed the basis of a report and recommendations which they shared with the province and the standing committee dealing with Bill 148.
“We had 24 businesses represented in the room and they were all saying, ‘This will mean fewer hours, fewer jobs and more automation, not hiring, and maybe even job cuts,'” said Dueck. “It’s all in reaction to the speed of which this is happening. Many of the businesses said they weren’t opposed to the increase, it’s just the speed at which it’s happening.”
The list of recommendations included the suggestion of increasing the minimum wage to $14, not $15 and phasing this in over a five-year period. They also want the province to consider providing relief for the agricultural and tourism sectors while looking at keeping the student minimum wage lower than the regular minimum wage.
Whether you agree or disagree with the increase, Marion Burton, president of the Peterborough and District Labour Council, says the minimum wage hike is one measure designed to help lift people out of poverty.
“This government has been faced with a province where too many people are living in poverty and they are looking at ways of bringing people out of this, and the basic income guarantee pilot project is part of that,” said Burton. “There’s too much precarious work and far too much part-time work and this younger generation just doesn’t have the future that my generation did.”
Burton says that anytime the government has tabled changes to issues like minimum wage or other labour initiatives — like a five-day work week, for example — they’re met with the same reaction: trepidation and fear that businesses can’t meet the demand.
But, she says, the workers can’t wait for a wage increase.
“If they wait and implement the minimum wage over a longer timeline, all they are doing is perpetuating poverty for too many people in this province,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a stretch at all, if you look at the legislation, you’ll see the employers have until October 2019 to capture the $15 minimum wage increase.”
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Keep Ontario Working Coalition have commissioned an independent economic analysis to study the effects of the proposed Bill 148 and will publish the findings next month.
In the meantime, the Bill is due for first and second readings even without amendments when Queen’s Park resumes session in September.