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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

New minimum wage may help Niagara, says poverty network

Ontario’s new minimum wage might be a salve for some of Niagara’s economic woes, says the chair of Niagara Poverty Reduction Network.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Tuesday the province’s minimum wage will rise to $15 an hour by 2019, a move that Glen Walker of NRPN says will be a real benefit for many Niagara residents.

“It will make a serious difference for a lot of people in Niagara,” Walker said Tuesday. “It will, for instance, help reduce homelessness, and allow people to pay their bills.”

The head of Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, however, said while the provincial government’s move might be well-intentioned, it is poorly thought out.

“We should be making policy, reviewing and changing policy, based on a thorough economic impact analysis, which the province didn’t do,” said Mishka Balsom, CEO and president of the chamber.

“What is the impact on micro-businesses, those businesses that employ one or two people? We don’t know because the analysis was not done.”

Wynne made the announcement Tuesday in response to a government-commissioned report released last week that included 173 recommendations addressing precarious work.

“Change in the workplace isn’t just on the horizon, it’s here,” Wynne said. “People are working longer, jobs are less secure, benefits are harder to come by and protections are fewer and fewer. In a time of change like this, when the very nature of work is being transformed, we need to make certain that our workers are treated fairly.”

The Changing Workplaces review concluded that new technology, a shrinking manufacturing sector and fewer union jobs, among other factors, have left approximately one-third of Ontario’s 6.6 million workers vulnerable.

The report didn’t examine the minimum wage, which is currently indexed to inflation and had been set to rise to $11.60 from $11.40 in October, but Wynne said raising it will make a difference in millions of people’s lives.

The minimum wage will rise to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018, and is set to increase to $15 the following year.

About 10 per cent of Ontario workers are currently making minimum wage, but about 30 per cent are making less than $15 an hour — the majority of them women.

“It has always been a challenge to raise a family on a minimum-wage job,” Wynne said. “But in recent years, it has become almost impossible. And the reality is more and more people are having to do it.”

Wynne also announced that part-time workers will get equal pay for doing work equal to full-time staff, and that the minimum vacation entitlement will be increased. Instead of getting two weeks of vacation, workers will be able to get three weeks of paid vacation a year after five years with a company.

The changes to workplace laws will also establish fairer rules for scheduling, including making employers pay three hours of wages if they cancel a shift with fewer than 48 hours’ notice.

Personal emergency leave would also be expanded. Currently, it is only available to employees at companies with more than 50 people, but proposed legislation would ensure all employees in the province get 10 days per year, two of them paid.

That the report did not study minimum wage, or the costs of new paid leave will have on small businesses, is a glaring oversight, said Balsom.

“That people should be able to earn enough to live and pay their bills, yes absolutely, we, of course, agree with that,” Balsom said. “But there needs to be a proper economic impact analysis. This policy change is being 100 per cent paid for by businesses, and we need to start asking what is the responsibility of business and what is the responsibility of government.”

Last year, NPRN estimated a living wage in Niagara — a wage that allows someone to pay for a basic level of housing, food and services — is $17.47 an hour.

Balsom did not dispute the figure, but said all levels of government should be taking steps to ensure the cost of living is lower.

“For example, if you had better public transit in Niagara, and you don’t need a car to get to your job or your place of education every day, maybe that living wage is $15 instead of $17,” she said, also noting Ontario’s high hydro costs as an aggravating factor the province has to address.

She also said the government did not account for changing consumer behaviour.

“There is the argument that people will spend more money locally if their wages go up,” she said. “But we know that the sector going through the most changes right now is retail because many purchases are being made online, and that money is going to China or the United States or wherever a product is being sold online.”

Walker said the cost of living has outpaced minimum wages to such a degree, that many people cannot afford non-essential goods. Many people while working on minimum need social assistance to make ends meet, he said.

In 2016, Niagara Region’s Ontario Works program was $1.3 million in the red due to unexpected demand for so-called discretionary programs — social programs that help pay for rent, utilities or medical bills.

Walker said the minimum wage increase should lighten to the Ontario Works load somewhat as greater earnings mean some people won’t need as much financial assistance.

— with files from the Canadian Press

Minimum wages across Canada

Ontario is raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, ensuring equal pay for part-time workers and increasing the minimum vacation entitlement as part of a major labour overhaul. The change will give Ontario the highest minimum wage in Canada:

Alberta: $12.20 an hour, rising to $13.60 this year and reaching $15 an hour on Oct. 1, 2018.
British Columbia: $10.85. It’s expected to rise to at least $11.25 this year.
Manitoba: $11.The government plans to raise it every year along with the rate of inflation.
New Brunswick: $11. Adjusted annually relative to the consumer price index.
Newfoundland & Labrador: $10.75 rising to $11 on Oct. 1, 2017.
Northwest Territories: $12.50
Nova Scotia: $10.85. Adjusted annually April 1 based on the consumer price index.
Nunavut: $13. Adjusted annually April 1.
Ontario: $11.40.
Prince Edward Island: $11.25.
Quebec: $10.75, rising to $11.25 per hour May 1.
Saskatchewan: $10.72. Adjusted annually Oct. 1 relative to the consumer price index and average hourly wage.
Yukon: $11.32. Adjusted annually April 1 based on the consumer price index.

Source: The Canadian Press, Retail Council of Canada 

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