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FAIR WORKPLACES, BETTER JOBS ACT, 2017

October 3, 2017

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I’m pleased to rise today to speak to the concerns of my constituents on Bill 148.
As I am speaking, there are thousands of workers in my riding who are fighting to keep their jobs in Ontario. When I talk to them on the picket line, they aren’t focused on increasing the minimum wage, or scheduling, or any of the other things in this bill. They are fighting to keep those 2,800 jobs in Ontario. I support them in that effort.

Those people on the picket lines are disappointed that, despite their pleas, this government isn’t standing up for them. In fact, this government is taking the opposite approach: They are adding more red tape and costs onto businesses, which is pushing more and more businesses out of Ontario.

We’ve seen it in my riding. In the last 11 months alone, there have been 1,300 layoffs announced in Oxford. That is 1,300 people who no longer have a paycheque to help pay for the mortgage, kids’ hockey, or even food. I know how hard it is for someone to make ends meet on minimum wage, but I know how much harder it is to make ends meet without a paycheque.

Before the government introduced this legislation, that should have been the first question they asked: What impact will this have on jobs in Ontario? Yet they didn’t do any studies at all. But I bet that if we checked, we would find that they did polling on it.

The Financial Accountability Officer actually studied the impact of the minimum wage increase and found that it is going to result in over 50,000 job losses.

In fact, the report said: “However, there is evidence to suggest that the job losses could be larger than the FAO’s estimate. Ontario’s proposed minimum wage increase is both larger and more rapid than past experience, providing businesses with a greater incentive to reduce costs more aggressively.”

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The report went on to say, “However, the FAO estimates that just one quarter of the higher labour income would directly” impact “low-income families. Since the income gains would not be concentrated on low-income families, raising the minimum wage would be an inefficient policy tool for reducing overall poverty.” That was the quote from the FAO officer.

At the same time, increasing the minimum wage will force many companies to increase the cost of goods and services. This is going to have a huge impact on seniors on fixed incomes, people on ODSP, and others whose salaries won’t increase. It’s going to squeeze many of the people who are already struggling to make ends meet. Those same people who are having trouble paying their hydro bills and finding an affordable place to live due to this government are going to be the ones paying more for coffee and groceries.

The people of Ontario deserve better than that. They deserve a government that is going to create an environment that attracts new jobs and that is going to put in place policies that are designed to help us prosper, not just something that polls well.

As one small business owner in my riding said:

“I am in the garment industry. I have been in this business for over 20 years. This new legislation sounds like it is designed to get rid of businesses like mine. I have never paid anyone minimum wage but my wages hover within a couple of dollars of minimum wage. So an increase in minimum wage will mean an increase in pay in order to keep my staff happy.

“And with a staff of 15, this can destroy what I have built, as the trend in my industry is to hold all production overseas. Small increases to keep up with inflation are acceptable, but some of the items proposed feel like they are being made by people who have no idea of the effects to Canadian small businesses. At the current rate, I feel like better opportunities are with other countries.

“This bill will definitely force me to look elsewhere, or at least rethink, why have production employees at all?”

That would be a disaster, if they decided that having the employees wasn’t worth the trouble.

Another said, “Our greatest concern is that Bill 148 would make Ontario and its businesses less competitive.”

A restaurant owner said:

“The minimum wage proposal is fine in its current format, with the exception of liquor server wages, which would remain untouched. Our full-time servers and bartenders make $800 to $1,000 a week in tips, plus their wages of $10 to $11.50 per hour. (The majority of servers’ tips/gratuities are cash and are not reported).

“This equates to $65,000 to $70,000 per annum and our government, for political gain, wants to give everyone a raise to $15 an hour? Really? Does that honestly make sense to you?

“Because of the proposed wage increase, there will be a net negative effect on the number of hours available to these servers, as we work on a fixed labour percentage.” This is all part of the quote from the restaurant owner. “We don’t believe this is the objective of Bill 148. Also, other changes such as minimum call-in etc. do not consider that the restaurant business has many factors outside of its control (i.e., weather, holiday times etc.).

“The bill seems to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to business, and I feel nothing could be further from the truth for restaurants, as we never have guarantees on customer counts in and out our doors daily. How does proposed Bill 148 allow us to continue providing our servers and ourselves with a guaranteed schedule so they can have jobs and financial security for their families as well?”

I think that pretty well says it all for restaurant owners as to how this bill deals with their business.

Mr. Speaker, our agriculture industry is also concerned about this bill, and I’m sure that you have talked to them and have heard the same thing.

In the competitive food industry, increased costs will mean that our farmers will lose their competitive edge in the global market. Profit margins for fruit and vegetable growers are as low as 5%. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would mean a 32% increase in labour costs for these growers.

The Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, apparently reveals that if government were to change nothing other than to implement the minimum wage increase over five years instead of the next 15 months, jobs at risk would decrease by 74% in the first two years. I think that’s the really important part. It isn’t just the value of the $15. If we did the increases in a more incremental fashion and put it over a longer period of time, the adjustments could be made. I think that would be very important if they did that.

Most of the discussion about this bill has focused on the impact of the minimum wage increase. There are a number of other provisions in this bill that will have a serious impact on businesses.

For instance, the requirement for advance scheduling may have unintended consequences. It is one thing in a restaurant or retail store, where planning the schedule in advance may be easy, but what about manufacturing operations where there is an unexpected shutdown on the line and there is an order to fill?

I know that in my riding, Toyota operates on just-in-time delivery. That means that the parts show up at the plant just as they are needed. In fact, it is so detailed that the seats show up, packed in trucks, with the colours in the order that they are needed.

Right now, if there is a delay on the 401 and the line gets behind, they schedule overtime on Saturday morning to catch up. If Bill 148 passes as is, and that delay happens on Thursday or later, they won’t be able to schedule the overtime, which means they won’t catch up the work over the next week. It will put the whole next week out of order, because the trucks will keep on coming. That throws off all the suppliers, and it puts our plant at a competitive disadvantage with all the other Toyota plants, when we are pushing for new lines.

What about the suppliers to the plants like Toyota? If they can’t meet their scheduled delivery, those companies face huge financial penalties.

These are very good-paying jobs that the government is putting at risk.

Mr. Speaker, I have also heard from numerous municipalities who are worried about the impact.

There are numerous signs that the government simply didn’t think this legislation through. For instance, their requirement to provide payment for being on call included volunteer firefighters who are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This would bankrupt many small municipalities. The legislation still needs to be amended to address composite fire departments, to clarify the difference between full-time firefighters and volunteers.

The legislation also would have meant that municipalities couldn’t respond to emergencies, because they would have to give everyone several days’ notice before they could be called in to work.

I want to acknowledge that the government has started to address these problems, but AMO has reviewed the amendments and said that they don’t go far enough to make it actually work on the ground.

It isn’t just fire and paramedics. After the recent flood in Windsor, we saw that garbage pickup was one of the services urgently needed to clean up after the flooding.

AMO has asked for a blanket exemption from on-call provisions for employees who are delivering services that are a statutory obligation. They have also asked for an exemption for municipal management. The reality is that the director of public works is always on call.

I think of our visit to Pelee Island, which has a limited staff and needs to ensure that the pumps are going when it rains, or the island will flood.

I’ve heard from businesses, farmers, municipalities and others who have concerns about the impact of this bill. It will cost us jobs.

I encourage the government to rethink this bill and take it to committee and amend it in such a way as to deal with these.

Mr. Speaker, this week is Agriculture Week, where we celebrate our agriculture industry and the importance of farming in Ontario. Agriculture in Ontario is a multi-billion-dollar industry and a huge contributor of jobs and products to our economy. The changes in Bill 148 mean less sustainable prices, less investment in farm technology and innovation, and loss of farmland when our agriculture industries can no longer afford their farms.

We saw how our agri-food industry moved out of Ontario with the increasing hydro rates. Greenhouses and manufacturers moved out of Ontario to save money on their production costs. I don’t want to see that happen again, Mr. Speaker. We need to ensure that we are working with our agriculture sector and ensuring their prosperity for the future, instead of making it harder and harder for them to stay in business.

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Mr. Speaker, I also have a letter here from one of my constituents: “Hi, guys. Hope you are both well. Looking forward”—incidentally, that’s addressed both to me and my federal member. He’s writing us the same letter and that’s why it says “Hi, guys” instead of just me.

“Hi, guys. Hope you are both well. Looking forward to upcoming elections for both. Our continued support is understood; thank you.” Obviously, I’ve got him marked in the “decided” column, Mr. Speaker.

“It appears there is a hearing loss at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa these days as the pointy heads develop whimsical policies aimed at serving their own purposes, with little derived benefit to those for which their policies are intended.” Obviously, this is a constituent who doesn’t support this legislation 100%.

“On the provincial front the rapidity with which we need to adjust payrolls is clearly developed by someone that has never been personally responsible for making a payroll using their own money. I have no problem with wage increases, as we presently have full-time workers at $15 per hour in both stores; and those part-time and students that are worthy, are already paid more than minimum wage since they have value.

“My issue is that with the speed of the application, I have no time to adjust, hence a reduction in both hours and employees to counter the increased wage percentage.

“In addition, there will be another 175 provincial civil servants hired to chase down those who do not comply. That makes perfect sense—private sector job loss; public sector hire. Where does this insanity end?

“This then ties in with the new middle class” for which there is no definition. The letter goes on to speak more about the problems in Ottawa.

But the first part of the letter was specifically sent to us based on what this piece of legislation was doing to an individual who has two stores in different cities in the province of Ontario, and who sees great detriment in the cost of that wage going up to $15 an hour. He’s not concerned about the $15 going up; he’s concerned about what we call the “domino effect.” The people who are now making $15 and $16 in his store—when the new hires have to make $15, those people are going to need more money in order to be satisfied with that.

He did sign it. He has sports centres; that’s where he sells his goods.

Mr. Speaker, other businesses have many questions about the new legislation. Our businesses are working hard to keep their businesses operating while also trying to understand the new legislation and the impacts it will have.

I had one local business from my riding contact me with many questions on Bill 148. They have scoured the Ontario government websites to find the level of detail that they need, to understand the changes and begin preparing for the changes so they can comply when it gets royal assent.

They find it unclear, exactly what types of businesses will be able to use weather exemptions and what types of weather will count in these exemptions.

They are unsure how seasonal workers differ from full-time workers; if various new provisions are pro-rated; or if things like 10 personal leave days will apply for someone working 12 months, the same way as it does for someone working for four or five.

That, I think, would be a problem that the government should have addressed in the bill a long time ago, in the original writing. We’re talking about the difference between full-time and part-time workers, but when you put in the mandated new conditions that must apply, are they pro-rated for the individual who is working part-time? The bill doesn’t say. I think we go back to the issue about the volunteer firefighters and equal pay for equal work. That’s what comes here. The equal pay would include: Do they get the 10 days? Do they get them even though they only work five months of the year, or is that pro-rated to the five months of the year, or is that pro-rated to five months based on the 10 days being for a full year?

Volunteer firefighters, when they go to the fire and you talk about equal pay for equal work—and we will all know that I spent 25 years being one of those firefighters. When you go to the fire, the fire is the same heat regardless of whether it’s a volunteer or a professional firefighter who is there to fight the fire. Does that mean that the pay for volunteer firefighters should be the same as the professional firefighters when they’re working? I don’t know. The bill doesn’t deal with that. But I think people would have concerns about that and I think that would be a very important thing to be looking at.

Again, on part-time work and occasional work: We talked about the agriculture one. When farmers hire part-time help to help in the fields and the person who works for him full-time is there and making a certain amount, does everybody who comes in to work—because it’s equal pay for equal work—get that same pay? Is there no designation that a class, a job or a title in the organization gets paid differently with equal pay for equal work, unless it’s defined?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have equal pay for equal work, but we have to make sure that that doesn’t change the way our society works—that people who have seniority there get paid more and, in many cases, particularly in the agriculture area, somebody who works full-time year-round at the farm get more per hour than someone coming in to help out for a day. I think that’s a very important thing that should be addressed.

Mr. Speaker, I do want to thank you very much for the opportunity to bring some of these concerns about this bill to this House. I hope that the government, when they send this bill to committee, will look at some of the changes. Again, when you look at the press release, the reason they brought this in was to deal primarily with the minimum wage. The amount of it is not the problem; how quickly they’re trying to do it is.

Some of the other things that they’re putting in—I heard a lot of complaints about scheduling from people working in the fast-food industry who didn’t want to be sitting at home for hours and days not knowing when they were going to go to work, so prescheduling works well. It doesn’t work well for my employer Toyota in my riding. I would hope that we would look at this to make sure that when Toyota needs to find another line or to expand in Woodstock, they don’t take it somewhere else because they can’t work under the legislation that this government has put forward. We need to protect all those well-paying jobs in Oxford county.

Thank you very much, again, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to speak.



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