Sault Chamber of Commerce holds Town Halls on Bill 148

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Dave Rector -Summer job employment programmes and tax credits are a concern at Rector Machine Works."We take students who turn into our summer students who turn into our trade people." Rector said trades people are difficult to find in northern ontario.

The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC) held two town halls recently to provide a forum for community members to look at Bill 148 through the lens of small business.

On May 30, 2017, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that the province will increase the minimum wage from 11.60/hour (effective October 1, 2017) to $14 an hour on January 1, 2018, and to $15 an hour by January 1, 2019 – which would be followed by annual increases at the rate of inflation.

These changes will make Ontario the second province (Alberta was the first) to publicly target a $15 minimum wage.

SSMCOC Town Hall attendees listen to presentation by Ashley Challinor – Director of Policy – Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Sept.29,2017

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s minimum wage announcement came after the release (May 25th) of the Final Report on the ‘Changing Workplaces Review’, which put forward 173 recommendations about strengthening workplace safety, collective bargaining and wage fairness for part-time, casual, temporary, seasonal and contract employees.

On June 1, 2017, Bill 148, ‘The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act’, was introduced in the provincial legislature and referred to Committee. Fair Workplaces and Better Jobs Act is here: news.ontario.ca

SSMCOCTown Hall attendees listened to presentations by The Ontario Chamber of Commerce – Ashely Challinor – Director of Policy. Sept. 29,2017. Civic Centre Council Chambers.

SSMCOC CEO Rory Ring said, “The Chamber invited local businesses to discuss the impacts and concerns that they have with the new legislation.” Ring stated that he was hoping interested parties –  regardless of whether they are for against the changes included in Bill 148  – would attend the  sessions held “so that both sides will walk away with a better understanding of the complete issue.”

SSMCOC held sessions on Thursday evening (Sept. 28) and Friday morning (Sept. 29) in The Sault’s Civic Centre Council Chambers. Attendance was largely made up of individuals from within the Sault’s business community. In general, those who spoke were not opposed to a minimum wage increase. The concerns were largely centered around the speed with which Bill 148 is moving through the Ontario legislature and the minimum wage increases coming in rapid succession – one on top of the other.

“I feel it’s important that we have a minimum wage that is in that range.” shared MPP Ross Romano.

MPP Ross Romano and SSMCOC CEO Rory Ring. Town Hall on Bill 148. Sault Civic Centre Council Chambers. Sept.29,2017. MPP Romano urges anyone with concerns – for or against Bill 148 – share those concerns with him.

Romano went on to say, “I don’t have any issue or difficulty saying that. The difficulty is the way and speed of which this legislation is being put through – without a proper risk assessment or economic impact assessment being done, to evaluate what Bill 148 is going to mean for the businesses in our community and provincially.”

According to the provincial government, ‘Ontario’s plan is to create more opportunity and security for workers and to ensure part-time and temporary help agency workers are paid the same hourly wage as full-time workers, introduce paid sick days for every worker, enable at least three weeks’ vacation after five years with the same employer and step up enforcement of employment laws.’

Rod Goodall – Final Touch Maintenance Services. Goodall is concerned that The Underground Economy will blossom under Bill 148. Goodall said that the underground economy is his biggest competitor – paying no taxes into the supporting the economy.

“Creating fair workplaces and better jobs across Ontario is part of our plan to create jobs, grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.” stated Ontario’s Minister of Labour – Kevin Flynn. “Fairness and decency must continue to be the defining values of our workplaces. No one working full time should be struggling to put food on the table or buy clothing for their children. Increasing the minimum wage will create more fairness, opportunity and security for workers, while building a more stable and sustainable economy that also includes fair workplaces for everyone.”

Rod Goodall – Final Touch. He fears that the minimum wage increases are being pushed by people in and around the Greater Toronto Area where cost of living is high.With 50-75 employees,Goodall stated that his costs will increase by $135,00 in wages alone.

By October 2017, the general minimum wage will have increased by almost 70 per cent since 2004, when it stood at $6.85.

The minimum wage remained frozen between 1996 and 2003. This will be the 11th minimum wage increase since 2004.

Special minimum wage rates for liquor servers, students under the age of 18, hunting and fishing guides, and homeworkers will also increase at the same time.

MPP Romano stated that he has been contacted by a number of businesses regarding Bill 148. “The vast majority of the people I have spoken with are persons that are struggling with the legislation.”

Sault Ste. Marie Golf and Country Club President Glen MacDonald. Over 20,000 rounds are played each year at the public course. Increase in wage costs will likely increase membership rates. Over 20 students are hired each year.

Romano said he would like to hear from people who are in favour of the legislation, and he urged them to contact him.

Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) Director of Policy, Ashley Challinor was in attendance at the town hall sessions. “OCC represents about 60,000 businesses across Ontario. We’ve been hearing from a lot of our members who are voicing concerns about Bill 148 and the challenges they are experiencing.”

Challinor gave an overview of Bill 148 stating that “It’s about more than minimum wage. There are 2 phases which include changes to vacation pay, expansion of personal emergency leave, casual and temporary employees pay and more, which takes place January 1st, 2018.  Phase 2 will happen after the next provincial election, and begin January 1, 2019. Provisions in Phase 2 include changes to minimum wage and scheduling provisions. For example, if an employer cancels a shift without 48 hours notice, the employee will be paid 3 hours. Changes are coming to the Labour Relations Act and Employment Standards Act.”

MPP Ross Romano – SSMCOC CEO Rory Ring and OCC Policy Director Ashley Challinor at Town Hall on Bill 148. Sept. 29,2017.

Challinor said that the OCC joined together with other industry associations, forming the ‘Keep Ontario Working Coalition’ (KOW). www.keepontarioworking.ca

“We want to see quantitative and economic analysis done in support of any labour reforms. We commissioned our own economic analysis of the impacts of Bill 148, hiring the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA) to undertake the study.” The Report can be found here: www.occ.ca

Dave Rector-Rector Machine Works stated his concerns for the affects of Bill 148 on the 85 year old locally/family owned business. He is worried that employment programmes/subsidies/tax incentives available for students will not keep up with the changes.

“Our risk assessment of the Act is that there is more risk than reward for Ontarians despite the stated goal of the legislation in helping Ontario’s more vulnerable and the Ontario economy,” stated Paul Smetanin, President of CANCEA. “Given the risk of consolidating income and wealth inequality, putting about 185,000 people out of work, and the risks of small/medium businesses being exposed to their larger competitors, the unintended consequences are significant.”

Sherry Berlinghoff, President S.K. Group stated that most of her employees are not at minimum wage – many are substantially higher than that and are well educated.She would like to see a gradual implementation over 5-7 years of minimum wage increases.

“What CANCEA found is that there will be a 23 billion dollar hit to employers over the next two years.” shared Ashley Challinor. “Stimulative affects of Bill 148 would be 11 Billion dollars, which leaves a 12 Billion dollar problem for employers over the next two years. Labour costs increasing aggressively will ultimately increase the cost of consumer goods.”

Several local business owners made presentations at the town hall session on Friday morning including Glen MacDonald – Sault Ste. Marie Golf & Country Club, Sherry Berlinghoff – S.K.Group, Rod Goodall – Final Touch Maintenance Services, Dave Rector – Rector Machine Works.

Glen MacDonald anticipates that 6 less students will be hired at The Sault Golf and Country Club due to increased wage costs with Bill 148. His fear is that increased costs will see golfers spending more time at Michigan courses.

Mike Nadeau, Chief Administrative Officer for Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services Administration attended the town hall session Thursday evening and Friday morning. He stated that he wanted to hear from local business owners about the potential impact of Bill 148. He stated that he is concerned about what he is hearing. “Further concerns from an advocacy (social justice) policy prospective are that the issue has gone political on all sides.” he said. “I hear people saying that it (minimum wage increase) is too quick – too soon. I don’t hear anyone coming up with concrete policy on what this means. It concerns me from a policy perspective – a holistic social services prospective on what we are trying to accomplish – To get people working.”

MPP Romano stated that the vast majority of people support the minimum wage increases, including PC Party leader Patrick Brown.

Sherry Berlinghoff, S.K.Group stated that her employees are concerned increases to minimum wage will see new hires with less experience earning wages that do not reflect education & loyalty – thereby closing the gap more experienced workers earn.

“We know that many people live pay check to pay check. We’re (Ontario’s PC Party) okay with the $15.00 but over a time period that reflects a more gradual implementation. Business owners – especially locally in Sault Ste. Marie –  already have cards stacked against them. SSM has among the highest business tax rates in the province.” he said.

“We’re one of the highest regulated provinces in the country that already makes it more difficult and expensive to do business. Our infrastructure in the north makes it more difficult to get product to market.  ‘Cap and Trade’ is another issue and these are all impediments to doing business – Hydro costs as well. When you factor in the increases to minimum wage, there is a further burden for businesses in the north.”

To read more about the SSMCOC and OCC research and advocacy on Bill 148 –  Go Here :

 

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Lynne Brown
Algoma writer and reporter. Has written for special editions Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal. In the 80’s, Lynne worked for AutoTrader Magazine in rural Southwestern Ont. Trudging through farmers’ fields for a picture of a 56 Dodge Custom Royale was considered a very good day. Special interests include issues relating to rural life, seniors, travel, history, community development and indigenous peoples. email to lynne@superiormedia.ca Twitter: @dlynnebrown.