Have employers’ minimum wage concerns fallen on deaf ears?

Consultation process dubbed a “dog and pony show” as government announces it’s pushing ahead with reforms

Have employers’ minimum wage concerns fallen on deaf ears?
loyers are frustrated that the Ontario government appears to be forging ahead with its planned minimum wage hike despite their warnings that they’ll have to cut jobs and staff hours to keep businesses afloat.

On Friday, an Ontario legislature committee wrapped up its hearings on Bill 148, which will lift the minimum wage from the current $11.40 to $14 in january 2018 and $15 in January 2019, among other employment law changes.

Before the final day of hearings even began, the Ontario government issued a statement saying it was “pushing ahead” with its plan – prompting concern that it had failed to listen to employers’ viewpoints.

“It’s called a dog and pony show, unfortunately and regretfully,” says Tony Elenis, president and chief executive of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA), who was surprised by the government’s pre-emptive statement.

“The promise was already made, the commitment was already made, I’ve received emails that are basically promoting it within government circles, and to me this is just a show.”

In its submission, ORHMA said its members’ primary concern was not the minimum wage hike itself, but the short timeframe for implementing it.

“This came out of nowhere … There should have been much more time given for business to prepare for it, and a longer phase-in,” Elenis told HRD.

“I’ve been talking to many [members] and they’re talking already about how they’re going to cut back, how they’re going to trim hours.”

Employers were also disappointed that the government had given repeated indications throughout the Changing Workplaces Review that the minimum wage would continue to rise annually in line with inflation, before springing the $15-an-hour hike on them.

“That process has not been consulted on. In fact, there has been no process on minimum wage,” Ryan Eickmeier, vice president of government relations and public policy for the Canadian Franchise Association (CFA), told HRD.

“There’s pretty significant concern from the business community at large that both the number they’re proposing and the rate of implementation that they’re proposing are going to cause significant damage to the economy. It’s just simply too much, too soon, and businesses do not have the ability to react to it.”

In a survey of CFA members, 33 percent said they anticipated franchise locations would fail or have to close due to the wage hike, while 20 percent were unsure if they would be able to survive.

Eickmeier was hopeful that the government would listen to employers’ concerns, though he added: “I don’t know how much of a change it actually will [make]”.

He said members generally supported the bill’s intent, “but the reality is a minimum wage increase and significant changes to labour and employment standards laws are not effective if there are no jobs for these employees to be had”.

Alongside extending its timeframe for implementation, CFA was asking the government to consider providing “offsets”, such as income tax credits, benefits credits, training allowances or subsidies, and uniform purchase credits.

“These are all things that come off the bottom line of employers. If there’s the ability to help implement or help include some offsets, it’s going to go a long way in helping reduce the strain on business in this province.”

Related stories:
Minimum wage hike will see jobs, hours cut
Why a higher minimum wage could be bad for workers

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