One year before a general election, Ontario’s Liberal government is promising sweeping changes to labour laws that would benefit millions of workers, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, ensuring equal pay for part-time employees and increasing vacation entitlements.
Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement at a campaign-style media event Tuesday, surrounded by supporters in construction and health-care unions, and activists who’d called for the minimum wage increase.
Ten per cent of Ontario workers currently make the minimum wage, Wynne said, and 30 per cent make less than $15 an hour.
“That’s millions of people, many of them supporting a family on a wage that just doesn’t go far enough,” she said. “They’re raising children, saving up for their education, wondering if they’ll ever be able to get ahead on the monthly budget, let alone own a home.”
The minimum wage increase will be phased-in gradually. It will rise with inflation, as scheduled, from $11.40 currently to $11.60 in October. Then, the government plans to bump it up to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 the following year.
Wynne also announced plans to ensure 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 proposed changes are in response to a government-commissioned report released last week that included 173 recommendations addressing precarious work.
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 province’s 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, Wynne said.
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, Wynne said.
“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.”
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the government will table legislation on the labour law changes this week, before the house rises for the summer. The government plans to send it to committee for consultations around the province over the summer.
Flynn said that even though some of the changes _ including the $15 minimum wage _ will come to into force after the next election, they’re not contingent on the Liberals being re-elected.
“Any political party wants voters to feel pretty good about you when you’re going into an election, that’s part of being in politics, but it’s more than that,” he said. “Today’s really a good day for the little guy.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) and a new coalition of employer groups that includes the Ontario Chamber of Commerce issued statements objecting to the proposed changes.
“We are shocked and appalled that the government is broadsiding small business owners with a 32 per cent increase in the minimum wage within only one-and-a-half years,” said Julie Kwiecinski, a director with CFIB. “Small businesses, who don’t share the larger profit margins of big business, will be forced to make difficult choices, including cutting hours and jobs.”
The Keep Ontario Working Coalition, formed in response to the proposed labour law changes, warned the changes will lead to “unintended consequences, including job losses, rising consumer costs, and economic hardship.”
In response, Flynn said there’s a body of evidence that shows a higher minimum wage can benefit local economies and lead to job growth.
“This money that goes to bread, it goes to diapers, it goes to bus fares, it goes to rent,” he said. “This is money that gets spent and invested right back in the community.”