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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at the closing news conference in this file photo. Ontario lawmakers passed a series of revised employment laws Wednesday including implementing a $15 minimum wage by 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Ontario will implement a $15 minimum wage on Jan. 1, 2019, and enact other new worker-focused rules even sooner, as lawmakers passed a series of revised employment laws at Queen's Park on Wednesday after years of research and debate.

The labour reforms put in place by the Liberals include requirements that employers pay part-time, casual and temporary employees the same rate as full-time employees for the same job; that employers must pay workers three hours' wages for shifts cancelled with fewer than 48 hours' notice; and that all workers be eligible for 10 days of emergency leave, two of which must be paid.

The province's business community has broadly and vigorously opposed the reforms since the process reached the legislature last spring, arguing the measures will raise costs so much that they'll have to hire less and raise prices for consumers to make up for those costs. Toronto-Dominion Bank researchers said in September the minimum-wage increase alone could cost the province as many as 90,000 jobs through reduced hiring and greater automation.

Reforms amending Ontario's Employment Standards Act, Labour Relations Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act will be rolled out on a gradual basis. Minimum wage, now set at $11.60 an hour, will reach $14 next Jan. 1, when new personal emergency-leave allowances and a measure that will entitle employees, after five years with the same employer, to three weeks' paid vacation also come into effect.

Equal pay for non-full-time employees will come into effect April 1. Scheduling rules, including payment for shift cancellation with fewer than 48 hours' notice, will come into force on Jan. 1, 2019. Collective agreements do not have to come into compliance with the new labour standards until the agreements expire or Jan. 1, 2020 – whichever comes first.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said in an interview that the gradual rollout will let the government study how the reforms will affect different professions, giving it time to consider some exemptions for rules such as scheduling. "We have a year to get them right," he said. Broadly, he said it will improve life for countless workers: "Sometimes, you forget how much of an impact this will have on ordinary peoples' lives."

Citing other jurisdictions hoping to implement a $15 minimum wage across the continent, Mr. Flynn said Ontario is "leading the way, but also just part of a movement across North America."

Some companies are already preparing for added costs because of the reforms. The grocer Metro Inc. had already said Ontario's increase to a $14 minimum wage next year would cost it between $45-million and $50-million in 2018 alone. On an earnings conference call on Wednesday, the company said it would be forced to cut hours at some locations as a result. "The hourly rate will be going up, so we have to manage the hours as best as we can without reducing customer service," Metro chief executive Eric Richer La Flèche said on the call.

Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said the labour reforms were a win for far more than just unionized workers in the province. "We're celebrating our victories, and we're reminding the government that we expect them to go further to help create decent work for all workers in the province of Ontario," Mr. Buckley said. The suggestion that thousands of jobs could be lost, he said, is "nothing but fearmongering."

After lobbying Queen's Park since the province launched the Changing Workplaces Review, which set the stage for this legislation, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce said it was disappointed the labour changes passed. The chamber, as well as the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association – which represents many businesses employing shift workers who do on-call work throughout the province – both said they were disappointed the province did not include any measures to offset the costs they would incur from the labour changes.

This could have included things such as financial incentives for hiring youth and training, a reduction in liquor-markup fees or lowered tax rates, the groups said. Karl Baldauf, the chamber's vice-president of policy and government relations, said the business group will now focus its energy on persuading the province to introduce such offsetting measures in its 2018 budget. Without such mitigation, Mr. Baldauf said in an interview, Ontario could wind up "hurting some of the vulnerable people in our province – the very people they're trying to safeguard."

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has urged the province to spend at least six months pro-actively educating employers on the new measures so that they were aware of changes that could otherwise lead to costly infractions.

The amendments to Ontario's labour laws that passed on Wednesday also include just-cause protections for unionized employees and enhanced abilities for employees to unionize in industries such as building services, home care and temporary help.

Ontario faces an election in 2018. The Opposition Progressive Conservatives have said they support a $15 minimum wage but would delay its implementation.

Full details on Ontario's labour-law changes are available here.

Follow Josh O’Kane on Twitter: @joshokaneOpens in a new window

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