Ontario Government Announces $15/Hour Minimum Wage By 2019

World

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal government have announced a slew of labor legislation changes for Ontario that include a huge boost to minimum wage and benefits. The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act proposes broad amendments to the current employment standards, which have not been reviewed in over 20 years.

The announcement came after the release of the Changing Workplaces Report last week, an independent review spanning two years of consultations and analysis. Involved in the full two-year process, Ryan Mallough, a policy analyst with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said that “at no time did they ask us or consult on minimum wage...So I think the initial reaction here is we’re feeling pretty blindsided.”

It caught many by surprise, especially the very workers the Liberals are striving to protect. With a majority government in place, it’s expected that the legislation will pass in September and attempt to level the playing field for part-time, contract and temporary workers throughout Ontario. The highlights include:

  • Increasing the minimum wage from the current $11.40 per hour to $15 per hour by Jan 1, 2019
  • Equal pay for casual, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees when performing the same work as full-time staff
  • Employees are entitled to three weeks of paid vacation after five years with the same employer
  • Everyone will be given ten days of personal leave, two of them paid
  • Employers will be prohibited from requesting a doctor’s note from an employee for taking personal emergency leave
  • Protections against repercussions for inquiring about personal wage rates or asking other employees about their wages
  • Employees can refuse to accept shifts if given less than four days notice
  • Guaranteed three hours of pay if an employee’s shift is canceled with less than 48 hours notice
  • Employers are prohibited from misclassifying employees as “independent contractors” to avoid extending benefits or paying them fair wages; in the event of a dispute, the onus will be on the employer to prove the individual is not an employee

Predictably, cheers and criticisms arose from many parties. Citing Wynne’s own 2014 minimum-wage advisory panel as an example, Ontario Chamber of Commerce vice-president Karl Baldauf said he hoped the government spends the summer examining evidence-based impacts of its proposals to help transition both employers and workers into the new work environment the legislation will cause.

“Employers understand more needs to be done, but if that needs to take place, you have to help them transition,” Baldauf said. Mike Ziola, partner and general manager of Biagio’s Italian Kitchen in Ottawa, agrees. “It’s going to have the opposite effect of what [the Ontario government is] hoping to have.”

He and other restaurateurs regularly have to make last minute schedule changes to adjust for canceled reservations, weather changes or large events- making the proposed scheduling payment system restrictive and costly. “It’s going to cost hostesses, cost dishwashers, etc.,” Ziola laments. “Only three years ago,” Baldauf points out, “the premier’s own minimum wage panel found that through research of Canadian examples every time you increase the minimum wage by 10% it has the reverse impact of lowering youth employment by 6%.” Tony Elenis, chief executive of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, said the changes “seem totally out of touch with the practices of running an operation.”

“It’s going to put a lot of businesses, especially small business with very thin profit margins, in jeopardy- and that’s unacceptable. We need to ensure that we are enabling prosperity for all, that’s what fairness looks like, and what we’re seeing today does not reflect that,” Baldauf told Global News.

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