Minimum wage hike will hurt Ontario’s most vulnerable

By MPP Toby Barrett

Kathleen Wynne’s proposed Bill 148 Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act will create countless intended and unintended consequences. The intended consequences have much to do with votes in the upcoming provincial election. The unintended consequences have all to do with the fact businesses — from the service industry to agriculture and everything in between – cannot afford the proposal for a $15 minimum wage.

During committee hearings on Bill 148, deputants advocated passing the increase along to the consumer, suggesting hiking the price of a cup of coffee as an example.

Speaking of coffee, Mark Wafer, owner of six Tim Hortons restaurants in Toronto, testified his main concern is with those who will suffer the most – those employees who do not generate revenue. Those vulnerable are young people, low-skill workers and people with disabilities.

Wafer himself has hired more than 150 workers with disabilities over 25 years and he said their work is a vital part of the success of the business, but when employers are desperate the non-revenue generating positions are the first to be cut.

As he said, those in the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) sector are major employers of Ontarian’s with disabilities. In fact 68 per cent of Ontarian’s with intellectual disabilities that are working, work in retail with the majority in the QSR industry.

People with disabilities make up 15 per cent of Ontario’s population. It’s one of our province’s largest minority groups. However, only 40 per cent are employed due to age-old stereotypes.

Sadly, a $15 minimum wage will further exacerbate this problem. As Wafer explained, employers are now understandably in a defensive mode. Many people have told him that will not be hiring from Ontario’s social service agencies. Others intend to lay-off or terminate those workers which will have terrible consequences for both the employee and employer. This will be the new normal and it will be difficult to encourage employers to hire those with disabilities. The impact on vulnerable employees in precarious occupations is a prime example of one of the unintended consequence of such a dramatic increase all at once.

This reality has come to fruition in the City of Seattle where in 2014 the minimum wage began increasing from $9.40 per hour and will reach $15 in January 2018. While high wage earners in Seattle are not being impacted, there has been a significant negative impact on low wage earners – the very people Premier Wynne is hoping to entice with this legislation.

The reality is, and studies show that, “the effects of disemployment appear to be roughly offsetting the gain in hourly wage rates.”

As Wafer articulated in his presentation to the committee, moving the minimum wage to $15 per hour is not inherently bad but what is truly damaging is the short time frame in which employers are working within. There is no time to plan or prepare.

“Regular increases to the minimum wage are not unexpected or even frowned upon, after all we do not want anyone left behind in the Province of Ontario, everyone deserves to have reasonable spending power, “ Wafer said. “However, raising the minimum wage 30 per cent in 18 months without any cost/benefit study will result in the same outcomes as those in Seattle.”