November 22, 2017 9:23 am
Updated: November 22, 2017 5:32 pm

Ontario passes labour reform bill, minimum wage rises to $15 in 2019

Tue, May 30: While the decision is seen as good news for low wage workers in the province, others say this could cripple small business and lead to job losses. Lama Nicolas reports.

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TORONTO – Ontario passed sweeping labour reform legislation Wednesday, including increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which will form a key pillar of the governing Liberals’ re-election bid next year.

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Premier Kathleen Wynne has been tying the policy at nearly every opportunity to a theme of fairness that will likely carry through to the June 2018 election, along with free tuition for low- and middle-income students, more child care spaces and pharmacare for youth.

The minimum wage boost has proved largely popular in government polling and with labour advocates, though it is controversial with businesses, who say the increase is too fast and will lead to job losses.

READ MORE: Ontario business coalition urges five-year implementation of minimum wage hike

Currently at $11.60 an hour, the minimum wage will rise under the legislation to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, with the increase to $15 coming in 2019.

The government and some economists argue that the hike will have some positive impact on the economy, as minimum wage earners get more spending power.

“Actually what you see is increases in employment because that money gets recycled,” said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn.

“This isn’t money that goes to the Cayman Islands. This isn’t money that goes into savings accounts. If you’re trying to raise a family on a minimum wage in the province of Ontario you don’t have a savings account,” he said. “What you do is you take that money out, you pay your rent, you pay your groceries, maybe a little car payment, you buy some shoes for the kids, diapers, that goes right back into the businesses.”

LISTEN: Julie Kwiecinski of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business joins Tasha Kheiriddin on AM640

Flynn also immediately made political hay of the Progressive Conservatives voting against the legislation.

READ MORE: $15 minimum wage could cost Ontario economy up to 90,000 jobs by 2020: TD Bank report

“I really think it was a slap in the face to working people in the province,” he said.

“I expected better.”

Progressive Conservative John Yakabuski said his party didn’t support it because of various analyses and business groups warning such a sharp increase will lead to job losses.

“The accelerated increase in the minimum wage is the No. 1 reason why we had to send a clear message that we’re going to defend what we believe are the working class in Ontario,” he said. “If you haven’t got a job your wage is zero.”

The province’s economic watchdog, the Financial Accountability Office, has estimated more than 50,000 people could lose their jobs due to the minimum wage increase.

A TD Bank report has estimated the minimum wage hike could cost the province’s economy as many as 90,000 jobs by 2020. And an analysis from the Keep Ontario Working Coalition concluded over 185,000 jobs could be impacted.

VIDEO: Premier Wynne announces minimum wage to rise to $15 an hour

Businesses say it will be difficult to absorb the increased costs over such a short time frame.

“They also turned a blind eye to numerous surveys and evidence-backed studies warning of significant job losses, especially among lower-skilled workers,” said Julie Kwiecinski, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The Liberal government recently announced the provincial corporate tax rate for small businesses will be cut from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent to help support businesses through the minimum wage transition, though Premier Kathleen Wynne said it was never intended to fully offset the impact.

READ MORE: Ontario chamber cautiously optimistic about minimum wage hike help

The legislation also mandates equal pay for part-time workers, increases vacation entitlements and expands personal emergency leave.

The minimum wage increase is the centrepiece and something labour advocates have been urging for years.

“The $15 minimum wage will put money where it is deserved and most needed, into workers’ pockets,” Navi Aujla, a former temp agency worker with the $15 & Fairness campaign, said in a statement.

“Together with paid emergency days, fairer scheduling and equal pay for equal work measures, $15 will make a real difference for our communities who fought so hard for this victory.”

The highlights: Breaking down Ontario’s new labour reforms

 Compiled by the Canadian Press

  • Minimum wage rises from $11.60 an hour to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018 then to $15 on Jan. 1, 2019.
  • Casual, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees will be given the same pay as full-time employees for doing equal work. There are exemptions based on seniority and merit.
  • Lower minimum wage rates for liquor servers, students under 18, hunting and fishing guides will also rise along with the general minimum wage.
  •  Once an employee works for a company for five years, they will be entitled to three weeks of paid vacation.
  •  Personal emergency leave no longer only applies to workers at companies with 50 or more employees. All workers will get 10 days per year, two of them paid.
  • Victims of domestic or sexual violence, or parents of children who have experienced or are threatened with it, will get five days of paid leave and 17 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave.
  • Employers will not be allowed to request a sick note from an employee taking personal emergency leave.
  • Parents whose children die will get unpaid leave of up to 104 weeks. It was previously only offered to parents when a child’s death was related to a crime.
  • Employers must pay three hours of wages if they cancel a shift with fewer than 48 hours notice, with weather-dependent work exempted.
  • Employees can refuse shifts without repercussion if the employer gives them less than four days notice.
  • Employees on call must be paid three hours at their regular pay rate.
  • Companies that misclassify workers as “independent contractors” instead of employees in order to skirt labour law obligations would be subject to fines.
  • The maximum fine for employers who violate employment standards laws will be increased from $250, $500 and $1,000 for various violations to $350, $700 and $1,500. The government will publish the names of those who are fined.
  • Ease restrictions on union certification and allow unions to access employee lists and certain contact information if the union can demonstrate it has the support of 20 per cent of employees.
  • Makes it easier for home care and community services workers, people in the building services sector, and those who work through temp agencies to unionize.
  • The maximum fines under the Labour Relations Act will increase from $2,000 for individuals and $25,000 for organizations to $5,000 and $100,000.

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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