Ontario minimum wage workers lose January raise

Conservatives follow through on promise to cancel minimum wage increase.

Lisa Hoadley

Ontario’s minimum wage employees just got an early and unwelcome Christmas present from the provincial government.

Ontario Premiere Doug Ford has announced he is freezing the minimum wage at the current $14 an hour, cancelling the much-anticipated increase to $15 scheduled to take effect in January 2019.

The wage freeze will cost minimum wage workers $2,000 a year, about $150 a month in-pocket.

To people earning less than $2,000 a month, that extra cash can mean the difference between meeting their responsibilities and struggling.

Victoria Connolly works as a cashier at Canadian Tire and still lives in her mother’s apartment with her younger siblings. She had not heard about Ford’s announcement and expressed shock and disappointment at the news.

Victoria Connolly reads an article about the cancellation of the January minimum wage increase. She had been unaware of the news before an interview with Kicker’s Lisa Hoadley. Lisa Hoadley/Kicker

“After the wage went up, I could actually pay my own phone bill,” she said. “Before, my mom paid for it and I just gave her some money sometimes. Now I can pay my own bill by myself. It felt good to buy my own stuff.”

The cancellation of the wage raise could hinder Connolly’s plans for the future.

“I’m saving to move into my own apartment,” she said. “And I wanted to get a car. I would’ve been able to save more money next year, so this sucks.”

In May 2017, Kathleen Wynne introduced the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (Bill 148), giving the minimum wage an unprecedented jump to $14 from $11.60. The Act also included 10 personal emergency leave days, with at least two of them paid, and equal pay for part-time and casual employees doing the same job as their full time counterparts.

Under Ford’s new plan, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, the reforms have been axed. In their place, Ontarians now get three sick days, two bereavement days and three family emergency days, all unpaid.

The Conservatives insist the sudden large increase in minimum wage hurt businesses and cost the province jobsFord said in lieu of the wage increase he plans to introduce a tax credit for people earning less than $30,000 a year.

However, Ford’s plan was met with scepticism by an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning research institute.

In her blog published on April 17, Sheila Block suggested that earning $15 an hour would put workers farther ahead than Ford’s tax cut. According to her estimates, the minimum wage increase would raise their income by $1,899, whereas Ford’s tax cut could save them as little as $485 a year.

The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, however, is happy with the decision to cancel the January increase.  The association says the old Liberal legislation hinders competitiveness in its industry and puts food safety at risk.

“I know fruit and vegetable farmers are looking forward to a return to predictable labour policy and reasonable minimum wage increases tied to the consumer price index,” said Jan VanderHout, chair of the growers association board of directors, in an  October 24 press release.

A typical pay stub for a full time minimum wage employee. Renting an apartment at this income level without a roommate to share costs is difficult in most cities, impossible in others.

Geoff Paget is a resident of Simcoe County, two hours north of Toronto. He is married with a nine year old son. He said that when was looking for work in 2016, opportunities in his town were limited. At the same time,  the low minimum wage made taking jobs outside his local area unaffordable because the cost of commuting would take too much out of his wages. The increase to $14 gave him a wider pool of work to choose from, and he was looking forward to the opportunities the raise to $15 would provide.

“Young people might be able to live on minimum wage, but older people can’t afford to start new jobs at minimum, not with children at home and bills to pay,” he said. “It’s a terrible wage any way you look at it.”

Ford says the wage freeze will be in place until 2020. After that the Conservatives may consider another increase but it will be based on the rate of inflation instead of a dollar amount.

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