Here's how 3 small business owners are responding to proposed changes to minimum wage, paid sick days
Mandatory paid sick leave 'would be expensive for us, but we would try to make it work,' says one owner
Gilleen Witkowski employs three people full-time and one part-time at her small business, Walk My Dog Toronto.
Right now, her company doesn't offer sick leave to staff — but Witkowski said she supports proposed reforms to Ontario's employment laws that would boost minimum wage and include a mandatory number of sick days.
If mandatory sick days come into play, her business will "make it work," Witkowski told CBC Toronto.
- All Ontario workers could soon get paid sick days, more paid vacation
- Small-business owners concerned about new workplace changes
"Sick days are actually pretty difficult for us in the dog-walking business," Witkowski said. "If someone gets sick the dogs still need to get walked, they still need to pee, so we have to hustle. But we do try to accommodate when possible, informally, when our staff are sick."
She said not giving employees of the start-up company a minimum number of sick days was 'from a standpoint of ease.' Instead, she said she went a different route when it comes to staff benefits.
"We provide a living wage of about $15 an hour, we offer full-time hours, we offer employee status which I think is important — it means they get paid statutory holidays," Witkowski said. "So it was just a direction we didn't go in with the paid sick days, but we are kind of happy to see it's being talked about."
In addition to the mandatory sick days proposal, the government is considering boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour and increasing annual paid vacation from the two-week minimum.
Those recommendations come from the Changing Workplaces Review, which was conducted by two special advisers appointed by the government in February 2015. That report will be made public on Tuesday.
Officials said the government will announce the reforms it intends to make soon after the release, but it's not clear whether legislation would be introduced before June 1, when Queen's Park adjourns for the summer, or in September.
"In small business, everything is very expensive and difficult and risky at every single step," she said. "Changes like mandatory paid sick leave would be expensive for us, but we would try to make it work."
Witkowksi said she also see the challenges from both sides. She previously worked for SEIU Healthcare, the union representing frontline healthcare workers in Ontario.
"I know very intimately how difficult it is to abide by government rules and regulations, taxes, red tape," she said.
"I reconcile them by thinking at Walk My Dog Toronto, we have a business model where we place respect on the employees very high on our list of priorities. We think that encourages a culture of respect, that they'll want to stick around more, and that we'll communicate better."
"So we just say to ourselves, it's expensive, but it's worth it to create good jobs."
Leading by example
Another small business owner puts a number on just how expensive those workplace changes could be: nearly $15,000 a month.
Still, Ben Castanie said Ontario needs to lead by example.
"Toronto is becoming an expensive city to live in and people are having a hard time paying for their living expenses," said Castanie, founder of Snakes & Lattes, a board-game cafe with two Toronto locations. "We need to guarantee a living wage for everyone."
He said the cost is a 'serious increase' for his Annex location, but he's prepared to plan for it.
"We are a local business that will benefit from Ontarians having more disposable income and all Torontonians having a better quality of life."
Funding a plan
The owner of one Toronto business says she isn't waiting around for the government to move on changes to labour laws in Ontario. Heather Mee, the co-owner of Emma's Country Kitchen, says the restaurant is taking matters into its own hands and relying on customers to help pay for employee benefits.
The popular brunch spot near St. Clair Avenue West and Bathurst Street has started adding a three per cent surcharge to all bills. The monies raised from the charge will pay for part of the benefits of their employees, which are set to start in June.
"We could either raise our prices or add a surcharge like this," Mee said. "We felt this was a very transparent and accountable way to charge more."
She estimates it will add $0.43 to the average customer's bill, but says all patrons will have the option to opt out if they wish. There is also a note about the surcharge on the menu and on the restaurant's website.
With files from Alexandra Sienkiewicz