Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, led by Premier Doug Ford, announced this week it is going to freeze the minimum wage and roll back the rights of non-unionized shift workers. The changes, mostly for the worse, come in a bill called the Making Ontario Open for Business Act.
Among other things, the Tories are cancelling a $1 increase in the minimum hourly wage scheduled for Jan. 1, 2019, eliminating two paid sick days for workers, and dropping the requirement that employers pay part-time and casual staff at the same rate as full-time workers doing the same job.
The government is also repealing measures that would have given employees the right to request a change to their schedule or work location, and to be paid for three hours of work if a scheduled shift is cancelled without 48 hours' notice. Workers will also lose the right to refuse to work on days they weren’t scheduled to.
Of these changes, only the minimum-wage freeze is justified. We’ve argued in the past that the former Liberal government raised Ontario’s hourly minimum too quickly – from $11.60 to $14 as of last Jan. 1, and then to $15 a year later.
That would have been a 32-per-cent jump in 12 months – simply too much of a burden, especially for small businesses. The government is right to freeze the hourly minimum at $14 until 2020 and then increase it on a cost-of-living basis.
But the other repealed measures were reasonable attempts to balance the needs of employers with those of the 623,000 Ontarians, many of them single parents and people over 55, who earn the minimum wage and rely on shift work to get by.
Mr. Ford’s bill will discourage employers from hiring full-time, since they can pay part-time workers at a lower rate. And it will force many non-unionized workers to live a life of uncertainty, never knowing what their schedule will be or when they can take a day off, and unable to take even one sick day a year without losing money.
All jurisdictions must be competitive on wages in order to attract business. But they also need to attract and keep low-wage workers by treating them fairly and not exploiting their economic vulnerability. Premier Ford has failed to consider the second part of that equation.