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In defence of Ford’s minimum wage freeze

Why students should support the recently passed Bill 47

In defence of Ford’s minimum wage freeze

On November 21, Bill 47 was enshrined in provincial law. The much-maligned bill eliminates a bevy of provisions passed under the preceding government’s Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. The crux of the controversy surrounding the bill is that it freezes the minimum wage at a substantial $14 an hour, instead of the previously planned $15 an hour.

Many progressives, including students, have voiced their concern over the bill. But given the state of the economy following Kathleen Wynne’s tutelage, this freeze is Doug Ford’s best option and the right path forward for Ontario.

Legislation cannot overwrite the market

As pure as the intentions may be in advocating for higher wages vis-à-vis government mandates, it is not possible to legislate away poverty. Economic intrusions like artificial wage hikes always come prepackaged with unintended consequences.

At the end of the day, one individual’s wage is another person’s cost. Employment is the voluntary contract between those two individuals. The agreed upon wage is ordinarily set by basic market forces: supply and demand. Efforts by government to intervene in this contract cannot benefit the employee without affecting the employer.

As their costs of doing business increase, employers react. Industries such as food and entertainment lay off staff, cut their hours, or hike prices. As reported in the Financial Post, Ontario restaurants hiked prices in response to Wynne’s wage hike. Accordingly, in January, the province saw “food inflation [rise] to its highest annualized increase in nearly two years.”  

As also noted by BMO Capital Markets’ senior economist, Robert Kavcic, the restaurant price hikes were a direct result of the Liberal government’s policy. In the same period that saw the province’s minimum wage jump 21 per cent, Ontario’s restaurant prices grew at a faster rate than any other province in the country.

Restaurants weren’t the only industry to feel the economic ripples of Wynne’s progressive proclivities. The Canadian grocery conglomerate Metro estimated its costs incurred from the wage hike to exceed $40 million. As a result, the firm said that it plans on cutting staff hours, in addition to reducing the number of 24 hour stores in the GTA.

The service sector also felt the pinch of rising costs. In Collingwood, Little People’s Daycare closed its doors permanently, citing the steep and swift spike in minimum wage.

The hike hurts low-wage workers including students

A coterie of minimum-wage proponents argues that their preferred policy benefits university and college students by helping them pay off tuition loans. This too is a folly proposition. If the presumption is that you can simply give people more money with innocuous wage hikes, it could be argued that the minimum wage ought to just be $50.

An oft-cited claim is that $15 reflects what is considered to be a ‘living wage.’ However, this argument requires bifurcating economic policy from its indirect outcomes. As previously described, raising Ontario’s minimum wage to whatever politicians at Queen’s Park determined to be the ‘living wage’ increases the cost of living, arguably negating any positive results the wage hike bestowed.

The latest Ontario labour market report indicates that nine months following the wage hike, the youth unemployment rate in Ontario increased to a whopping 12.2 per cent. That’s a 15 per cent increase from a year ago when youth unemployment was already at 10.6 per cent.

The unemployment rate increased for the very same demographic minimum-wage proponents preen about supporting. Moreover, the minimum wage hike has also increased these now out-of-work university students’ cost of living, making cafés, restaurants, and groceries more costly.

In addition to affecting students and younger members of the workforce, the hike also priced people with certain disabilities out of jobs entirely. The previous Liberal government eliminated an exemption for sheltered workshops a place where people with mental or physical disabilities could find work.

Setting the minimum wage at $15 makes accepting a job that pays $14 illegal. Individuals who can’t compete for the higher wage effectively have their minimum wage reduced to zero. This was what happened at the sheltered workspaces, where people with disabilities were priced out of the job market.

There’s a reason electricians, plumbers, and other professionals don’t earn minimum wage. It’s called minimum wage because earning it requires minimum skill. I earned $15 an hour in my first job, and even that required laborious lifeguarding certifications.

If you want to help unskilled workers earning minimum wage increase their wages, the solution isn’t to blithely hijack the economy and inflate their wages. It’s to help them find better jobs. Unskilled labour was never meant to be the mainstay of the economy.

A far more effective solution is to empower individuals by helping them acquire skills that make them competitive for higher paying jobs. Furthermore, it is necessary to foster an environment where people can rise in the workforce. The onus is on government legislators to tackle tax and regulation burdens shackling businesses from potential growth. Ford’s Bill 47, in conjunction with his proposed tax cuts, puts Ontario on the path to achieving just that.

Harry Khachatrian is a fourth-year Electrical & Computer Engineering student in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

Ontario legislature passes controversial labour reform bill, repealing workers’ rights

Voting was delayed due to protests from Fight for $15 and Fairness

Ontario legislature passes controversial labour reform bill, repealing workers’ rights

The Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) government passed Bill 47 — also known as the Making Ontario Open for Business Act — on November 21, repealing workers’ rights changes brought in by the previous Liberal government.

As a result of this new bill, minimum wage is now capped at $14 until 2020 and will no longer increase to $15 an hour on January 1. Workers will also no longer have two paid sick days and employers are allowed to require sick notes from their employees’ doctors.

The new bill also states that scheduling provisions, which were to come into effect by the new year, have been repealed. This includes the right to request scheduling changes if an employee has been employed for at least three months, a minimum of three hours’ pay for on-call workers, and the right to refuse requests to work if the employee was not notified at least 96 hours in advance.

The bill was expected to go through royal assent following its third reading Tuesday afternoon. However, legislators motioned to adjourn the vote due to protests from Fight for $15 and Fairness, which is a labour lobby group that has a chapter at U of T among its membership.

Protesters were escorted out of the Queen’s Park gallery, shouting chants directed at Premier Doug Ford and the PC Party, primarily airing grievances about freezing minimum wage and taking away workers’ rights that would have been made available under Bill 148.

Naomi Litwack, a fourth-year architecture student at U of T, was in the galleries protesting the changes the moment security escorted members of the public out.

“I started chanting and then the guards started to try to quiet us down… Eventually, they started being a little bit more forceful in that they were… really grabbing people’s attention. Eventually, one guard got a whole row out. The guard for my section… said, ‘You can leave or you can be arrested.’ So we decided it was time to leave.”

Members of the opposition showed disappointment following the bill’s move to royal assent.

“We just saw workers’ rights be torn out from under them. We just saw the lowest-income workers lose $2,000 in increased pay because of the decisions that the government made today in passing legislation,” said New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath following the vote.

“Our government should make it easier for businesses to employ people,” said Labour Minister Laurie Scott, in support of the bill. “We need to keep regulation and payroll taxes reasonable and manageable. We need common sense to inform good policy. Our PC government understands that regulatory burdens make it harder to do business and harder to employ workers.”

The PC government has faced major criticism regarding the bill since its introduction last month. Ford reportedly received death threats and Scott’s constituency office was vandalized.

“Passing Bill 47 shows that this government is not considering the real-world effects of decent work laws, which have helped the Ontario economy,” stated Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley in a press release. “It also ignores the voices of the people who will be most affected by these laws — women workers, racialized workers, Indigenous workers and workers with a disability.”

“That [protest] just shows you the number of people that are extremely disappointed and shows you the large gathering at Queen’s Park yesterday to voice their displeasure with the government,” said Buckley in an interview with The Varsity.

Simran Dhunna, President of Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT, wrote that the group was disappointed with the bill’s passage.

“We were able to delay the vote on Bill 47 by a day because the Ford government can’t bear to sit there and slash our labour rights as we, the people, watch,” wrote Dhunna.

“By passing Bill 47 this week, they made it clear — once again — how much disdain they have for workers in the province. We will remember this moment, and we will continue to fight for better labour protections.”

The Varsity has reached out to CUPE3902 for comment.

Op-ed: What students stand to lose with Bill 47

Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT on why we must resist the Ford government’s rollbacks of our labour rights

Op-ed: What students stand to lose with Bill 47

In November 2017, the Liberal government passed Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, a watershed moment in Ontario’s history. As a result, over 1.7 million minimum wage workers saw a direct pay increase from $11.60 to $14 per hour, with the $15 minimum wage to come this January. Millions more benefited indirectly from wage bumps.

Today, the Progressive Conservative government is turning back the clock on our rights with Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. On November 20, our MPPs will start the third reading of the bill.

The vote will proceed after only five hours of public consultation. Citing the two weeks of extensive consultations preceding Bill 148, Deena Ladd from the Workers’ Action Centre and the Ontario Federation of Labour called these consultations a “sham.”

Though Doug Ford prides himself on being “for the people,” Bill 47 would endanger millions of workers by repealing almost all of the provisions under Bill 148, including paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, fairer scheduling laws, and easier ways for certain sectors to unionize.

Why students should be concerned

Among those who stand to lose the most are students. As Ontario has the highest average tuition fees in the country, many of us have no choice but to compromise our studies by juggling multiple jobs to pay tuition, afford rent, and support our families.

Those of us working in academia, such as teaching assistants, also face precarity. Over 75 per cent of college faculty members are temporary contract workers. Ontario’s colleges and universities estimate that they pocket $336 million annually by paying these precariously employed faculty less than their permanent colleagues, who do the same work.

And it’s not just postsecondary students who depend on a better minimum wage and fairer working conditions. Two weeks ago, high school students protested Bill 47 to expose that Ontario is the only province in Canada where student workers under 18 earn a subminimum wage of $13.15 per hour compared to the adult rate of $14 per hour. Bill 47 would cancel the scheduled increase in the subminimum student wage, directly impacting students’ ability to save for postsecondary education at institutions like U of T.

Once in university, many of us take on precarious, low-paying jobs — often in the service and retail sectors — that expose us to a slew of poor working conditions. Students are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of Bill 47 due to our demanding school obligations and the structural barriers some of us face. This is especially true for racialized, women-identified, gender non-conforming, queer, trans, working-class, disabled, and international students.

If it passes, Bill 47 would deny us the right to 10 job-protected leave days, two of which are paid — a rollback that 77 per cent of Ontarians oppose. The bill would also repeal fairer scheduling provisions, such as being able to refuse last-minute shift changes without risking our jobs. Taking time off and having flexibility in scheduling is especially important for students who commute, live with mental or physical illness, and have caregiving responsibilities.

Moreover, many U of T students find work through temporary agencies. By repealing the Equal Pay for Equal Work provision, Bill 47 condemns students who are temporary workers — often racialized and international students — to be paid less than permanent workers for the same job. It also gives a green light to employers who violate employment standards by reducing the penalties for labour violations by 75 per cent.

Unfair labour laws such as those crafted by Ford have a body count. Just two weeks ago, a fourth temp worker died at a Fiera Foods-affiliated company that is notorious for having 191 health and safety violations. The same company claimed the lives of 17-year-old Ivan Golyashov and 23-year-old Amina Diaby, whose hijab got caught in a machine.

U of T’s complicity

Corporate elites continue to lobby against the very laws that are meant to prevent the deaths of young workers like Golyashov and Diaby. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has been spearheading these lobbying efforts, claiming that Bill 148 was “too much, too fast.”

As a member of the OCC, U of T cannot be absolved of its complicity in Ford’s pursuit to slash Bill 148. While Ryerson University, another member of the OCC, has attempted to distance itself from the organization, our university has remained silent.

Now would be a good time for U of T to come clean. To the administration: establish your stance on Bill 47, clarify your relationship with the OCC, and explain why you, as a public university, continue paying membership to a corporate lobbying group that actively undermines workers’ rights — and, by extension, our financial security and well-being as students.

How students can win

Unlike the university, we have not been idle. The U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness has started conversations with hundreds of students across campus. From petitioning at Sid Smith to handing out leaflets at Clubs Fair, we have heard from U of T students of all stripes: commuters who spend hundreds of dollars a month on transit, students raising young children, and classmates supporting their grandparents.

Among the thousands of students who have signed our petition, many are shocked to hear that the Ford government is attacking their future and those of their families.

Along the way, we have been debunking some myths. For instance, Bill 148 is not an “absolute job-killer” as Ford would have people believe. Since Bill 148, the average number of hours worked has increased, and 139,000 net jobs have been created in the province year-over-year.

While canvassing, we also uncovered the deception behind Ford’s new income tax cut for low-income workers, which leaves them with around $1,000 less in their pockets per year than if the $15 minimum wage came into effect. Under Ford’s plan, the minimum wage would be frozen at $14 until October 2020, after which it would be indexed to inflation. In other words, Ontarians would not see the $15 arrive until 2025.

The province-wide Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign has been organizing tirelessly for years to win Bill 148. Now that it’s under imminent threat, we will continue to organize against a government that is ruthlessly trying to turn back the clock on our labour rights. With the power of thousands of students behind us, we will win again.

On Tuesday, November 20, the Ontario Legislative Assembly will debate on Bill 47. Please join the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in Queen’s Park to pack the gallery and stand united against this regressive legislation. Arrive no later than 4:30 pm to get through security. You may also submit a customizable letter calling for the withdrawal of Bill 47 here, which will be sent to Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs: https://www.15andfairness.org/withdrawbill47.

Clement Cheng is a fourth-year Peace, Conflict and Justice, English, and Geography student at Victoria College. Simran Dhunna is a first-year student in the Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Mia Sanders is a second-year Women and Gender Studies and Diaspora & Transnational Studies student at Victoria College. They are members of the U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness.

Anger toward corporate greed should be targeted at the individuals who perpetrate it

Re: “Protests hit local Tim Hortons as franchises cut workers’ benefits”

Anger toward corporate greed should be targeted at the individuals who perpetrate it

A number of Tim Hortons locations across Ontario have cut their workers’ benefits in response to the provincial minimum wage increase. Though some might think such changes are necessary for the survival of these locations, the assumption that these decisions were just ‘good business’ may actually be misguided.

The events surrounding a franchise in Cobourg, Ontario in particular have brought to light the extent to which sheer greed can influence the decision to roll back worker benefits. In response to the minimum wage increase, the location‘s franchisees handed their employees a letter. Opening with a mawkish apology, the letter goes on to detail that the employees’ paid health benefits will be reduced and that breaks will no longer be paid. The location in question belongs to Ron Joyce Jr. and his wife, Jeri Horton-Joyce, the heirs to the Tim Hortons fortune. One would think that the inheritors of the coffee shop empire might possess some gratitude for their workers, who helped them amass a staggering personal net worth of $1.4 billion. Instead, the billionaire couple cut worker compensation in the face of the slightest potential loss of profits.

When news of this spread, protests began outside the Cobourg Tim Hortons, with outrage growing due to similar decisions being made in other parts of the province. These protests eventually made their way to Toronto, including at a location near campus, and so the #BoycottTimHortons movement began.

Although the cutthroat manner in which these corporations and franchises do business needs to be challenged, the anger people feel over the decision to minimize workers’ benefits needs to aimed in the right direction. It seems to be a lot easier for some to feel a general sense of distrust and antagonism towards corporations in general. However, it is inappropriate to shift blame away from individuals like the Joyces and franchise owners like them, and to attribute it to the entire corporation. This is in fact what the franchisees want: to lead the public to believe they had no hand in these decisions and that the constraints of doing business, all rooted in the structure of the corporation, forced their actions.

There are many Tim Hortons locations, like the ones on campus, that have not stripped workers of their benefits. And by acknowledging how many of these locations can continue to survive and succeed without making egregious cuts to employee benefits, it makes the situation in Cobourg seem that much more sickening, and the justification of these cuts as ‘good business’ that much more hollow.

 

Vidhant Pal is a graduate student at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering. 

UTM food prices will rise due to minimum wage increase

All branded partners implementing five to 11 per cent price hike

UTM food prices will rise due to minimum wage increase

Branded food service outlets at UTM are raising prices in anticipation of the upcoming minimum wage increase. Costs are expected to increase by five to 11 per cent, as opposed to the previous average year-on-year increase of three per cent.

Prices for non-branded food are also set to increase, although it is unclear by how much. UTM is set to work with its catering partner Chartwells to keep its non-branded price increases “as low as possible given the increase in labour costs and expected increase in food costs,” according to the minutes of the Food Service Advisory Committee meeting on November 15.

The Food Service Advisory Committee evaluates and reviews various policy and operational aspects pertaining to food services at UTM and serves in a consultative capacity responsible to Vicky Jezierski, Director of Hospitality and Retail Services at UTM.

Jezierski explained, “University of Toronto Mississauga has no control over price changes in branded food service outlets… We do not set our branded prices at premium or non-traditional price levels that some other campuses do.”

The food price increases will also affect student meal plan rates, since these can be used at both branded and non-branded vendors on and off-campus. Jezierski noted that food prices are “the driving force” behind proposed meal plan rates.

“We are still in this part of the process, so the price increase for non-branded food service outlets has not been finalized,” said Jezierski. “Our focus is… also on sustainable food service hours of operation and service levels from year to year while still maintaining food prices at UTM that are well below the average of food prices at other Canadian college and universities.”

Jezierski said that Hospitality and Retail Services cannot subsidize increased costs because it “operates as an ancillary and is not in a position to get subsidies from the UTM’s operating budget.”

UTM Dining Services has put up printed notices of these increases at the various branded services’ kiosks, including at the Tim Hortons in the William G. Davis Building. The notices indicate that branded services “will be introducing price increases consistently for the remainder of the year.”

All branded services are implementing price increases, such as Bento Sushi, Subway, and all branded vendors in the Temporary Food Court, including Booster Juice, Elements, and Pizza Pizza.

As of the 2017 University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) AGM, the Blind Duck pub, a UTMSU division, had not indicated increases in price. The pub is currently running a deficit as UTMSU executives opted not to increase food costs last year despite increases in the cost of sales.

The UTMSU did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment in time for publication.

A $15 minimum wage has health benefits

Two U of T medical students reflect on the upcoming wage increase in Ontario

A $15 minimum wage has health benefits

On May 30, the Ontario Government introduced Bill 148, which includes an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2019. Economic research supports this increase: a higher minimum wage will increase household spending, which contributes to domestic consumption and economic growth.

Raising the minimum wage also addresses significant wealth inequities. The share of Ontarians earning low wages has grown, and it’s not just teenagers. A 2013 report found that 60 per cent of workers earning less than $15 are over 25, and these workers are much more likely to be women, racialized, and recent immigrants. The $15 an hour minimum wage will therefore help to close the wage gap for them.

Not only is this policy sound from both an economic and equity perspective, but it is also great for health. As medical students, we are learning about all the things that make us sick. A surprising amount of our health problems are affected by modifiable social factors: the Canadian Medical Association identifies 13 social determinants that contribute to 50 per cent of what makes Canadians sick, and poverty is one of them.

Research has demonstrated time and time again that living in poverty is bad for your health, and we can see why: income has an impact on the education people can receive, the food they can put on the table, and the housing they can afford.

Every day in the emergency department, health care providers and medical students meet patients who are affected by job insecurity, either due to precarious work or low wages. For example, we met Shirley*, a 42-year-old single mother who is living with diabetes and has two young kids. She came in with a complication from her chronic health condition that was clearly the result of her not taking her medications as prescribed. With further inquiry, it became clear that she wasn’t taking them because she could not afford them; Shirley works full-time, and at minimum wage, she is forced to prioritize food and rent over her health.

In medical school, we learn how to manage conditions like Shirley’s and about the array of drugs that help to curb associated complications. But for many patients, affording the medications they’re prescribed is very difficult, and this difficulty contributes to broader health care costs to both the individual and the province. In 2010, the estimated burden of diabetes in Ontario was $4.9 billion; this was projected to increase by 42 per cent by 2020. What we don’t always talk about, but that have very strong relevance, are the policies outside of the health system — such as Bill 148 — that will help patients afford necessary prescriptions to manage acute and chronic illnesses.

Currently in Ontario, someone who works full-time in a minimum wage job falls below the low-income threshold and has difficulty making ends meet. In fact, even a $15 minimum wage, while a major improvement, still falls below the calculated living wage in most parts of the province, including Toronto, where the living wage is $18.52. Poverty is linked to chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease, and workers in the lowest fifth of earners experience higher rates of poor mental health and multiple chronic conditions.

Not only does poverty affect families in the here and now, but in the future as well: studies have shown that poverty occurs in intergenerational cycles. Shirley’s kids, for example, are experiencing the stressors of living with insufficient income for adequate food and housing. Poverty is linked to delayed growth and cognitive development in children, and associated stressors can manifest in the form of mental illness later in life. A policy that adds more money to Shirley’s budget will have a positive impact on her children in the present and future.

Far too often, people are unable to prioritize their health because of low income. Increasing the minimum wage is one way of addressing this reality and has been shown to have a direct impact on health outcomes. Researchers at U of T have predicted that increasing the income of Canadians in the lowest income quintile by $1,000 would result in nearly 10,000 fewer chronic conditions overall, as well as 6,600 fewer disability days taken over a two-week period.

A 2008 report by the Ontario Association of Food Banks estimated that if the incomes of the lowest fifth of earners were raised to the level of the second-lowest fifth, this would result in $2.9 billion in health care savings. A reduction in illness and increased well-being due to increasing incomes for low-wage workers carries benefits for individuals, families, and the province as a whole.

A higher minimum wage is a great start to addressing health issues before they even develop — it is a preventative approach. We applaud the Government of Ontario for taking this step toward a healthier society.

Patricia Hoyeck and Mariam Naguib are students in the Faculty of Medicine. They are steering committee members of the Decent Work and Health Network.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.

 

Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter launched at UofT

Movement calls for minimum wage increase, to combat increasing costs of living, precarious employment

Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter launched at UofT

Fight for $15 and Fairness, the Canadian affiliate of Fight for $15, has expanded its advocacy work for higher wages by bringing the campaign to U of T.

U of T’s chapter was founded by Souzan Mirza, a master’s student in biomedical engineering; Andre Fast, a fourth-year Innis College student and co-founder of U of T’s Free Tuition Coalition; and Jared Ong, an alumnus and organizer with Fight for $15 and Fairness.

The co-founders and other group members are appealing to students’ experiences of part-time, low-wage or unpaid employment and urging them to support a coordinated effort towards fair compensation in Ontario.

Fast told The Varsity that while their most pressing goal is to increase the minimum wage, in the future they hope to fight for “paid sick days, fair schedules, decent hours, and rules that protect all workers.”

Critics of movements that fight for higher wages often argue that wage increases would harm the economy, and result in job losses. U of T economics professor, Morley Gunderson, has opposed minimum wage increases in Ontario since 2010. He spoke to the Toronto Star who wrote, “10 per cent increase in minimum wage” will result in a “three to six per cent decrease in employment in young people.”

Fast disagrees with this conclusion, referring to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report from 2015 titled, “The Case for Increasing the Minimum Wage,” that refutes this point.

“A common misconception is that raising the minimum wage is bad for the economy… Rather, it would boost the economy as there would be increased demand since more people would have more money to spend,” Fast said.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 has a precedent in Canada. In September 2016, the NDP government in Alberta announced that it would increase the minimum wage in increments, first bringing it to $12.20 in October 2016, then $13.60 in October 2017’ and finally to $15 in October 2018.

A wage increase to $15 an hour would constitute a significant raise for those making the current Ontario minimum wage of $11.40, but some reports suggest that a greater increase would be necessary for workers to provide for their families in expensive cities like Toronto. The 2015 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report “Making ends Meet” calculated Toronto’s living wage, defined as the amount needed to be made by two earners in a four-person household in order to provide basic necessities, at $18.52. 

Fast alluded to the group’s plan to gain enough traction in their campaign to bring attention to this issue in provincial politics.

“This semester, we are mobilizing at U of T for the final recommendations of the Changing Workplaces Review in the spring,” he said. “Together with Fight for $15 and fairness provincial campaign, we will push all political parties to craft legislation that would support decent working conditions. Looking further ahead, we plan to continue our advocacy and push to make the rise of precarious work a provincial election issue.”