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Mixed feelings locally over Ontario's minimum wage hike

Photo courtesy of $15 & Fairness Twitter/ @fairwagesnow

Ontario’s minimum wage hike is getting praise from a group of advocates who have been pressuring the province for the strongest possible labour legislation. But will local part-time workers pay a price? The business community says yes.

Art Sinclair is Vice President of the Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, and says the legislation has been implemented too quickly for the Region’s small businesses to afford a $14 minimum wage on January 1st, and pay up to $15 in 2019.

“Most businesses don’t see a corresponding revenue increase over this period of time, so it’s going to be a challenge,” says Sinclair.

But Marjorie Knight doesn’t buy it. The Cambridge resident came to Canada in 2001, and has struggled to pay the bills working for low wages with no sick days or benefits. She says there have been many times when she’s had to choose between rent and food.

Knight is part of the province-wide movement $15 & Fairness, and says now that the labour reforms have officially passed at Queen’s Park, it means workers like her will be able to look after themselves and their families with dignity.

“It’s a wonderful thing to say we have Canada Day celebrations. It’s another thing when you can’t get there because you can’t afford to get there,” she says. “Friday pizza for your children sounds so small, but it’s out of reach for so many people.”

Sinclair says there could be unintended consequences, citing a company’s decision to downsize operations or hand out layoff notices as a result.

“I think you’re looking at a lot of people when you’re getting into a lot of the minimum wage areas … They’re quite vulnerable to begin with,” he says.

Knight doesn’t deny there will be some fallout, but says “Every time there’s going to be a raise in the minimum wage, there is this fear-mongering that says the sky is going to fall and businesses are going to fail.

“These same small businesses, when we have more money that’s where we spend our money. I’m not going off to vacation in Bora Bora … I’m spending it here.”