Ontario is poised to become the second province to move toward a minimum wage of $15 an hour, with an announcement coming today from Premier Kathleen Wynne and the province's minister of labour.
CBC News revealed earlier this month the Wynne government was "seriously considering" a $15 minimum wage. Wynne is due to deliver a speech Tuesday morning and make the formal announcement with Labour Minister Kevin Flynn.
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Government officials say the increase from the current $11.40/hr minimum wage will be phased in, but would not reveal the timeline.
In an interview with CBC News on Monday, Wynne declined to offer specifics but indicated her government plans a significant hike.
"Although we've done a good job in tying the increases in the minimum wage to the cost of living, I think we have to look at a jump up at this point," Wynne said. "We are in competition with New York, we're in competition with San Francisco. Those are jurisdictions that are moving to a $15 minimum wage."
Alberta's NDP government has announced a $15 minimum wage will take effect in October 2018. New York state is to follow suit in 2021, and California in 2022. The cities of Seattle and San Francisco have already brought in $15 minimum wage rules for certain classes of workers.
Wynne argues Ontario's economy is now strong enough to justify a boost for low-wage workers and turns aside claims that it will hurt businesses.
"People who are working at the minimum wage spend that money. That money goes back onto the economy and that's a good thing for business," said Wynne. "If their employees feel secure and they are loyal to the business and they want to stay, that's good for their business as well."
The opposition Progressive Conservatives have yet to say where they stand on the minimum wage. The NDP committed in April 2016 to a $15 minimum wage, if elected.
The wage hike will be just one of a suite of other reforms to rules governing workplaces in Ontario to be announced Tuesday. The moves are based on the recommendations of a review of the province`s employment laws, which included:
- Increasing minimum annual paid vacation to three weeks once a worker has spent five years with an employer.
- Prohibiting the practice of paying part-time staff a lower wage than full-timers doing the same job in the same workplace.
- Making it easier for workers in retail and fast food chains to form unions.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce "objects in the strongest terms to many of the reforms," its interim president said in a letter to Wynne this month.
"These sweeping changes will tip our economic balance in a profoundly negative way," wrote Richard Koroscil, head of the group that represents 60,000 businesses. "We are concerned that these rumoured policy changes would make it more difficult for Ontario businesses to grow and create good jobs."
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business offered similar warnings. "It is very, very hard for a small business to shoulder any additional financial burdens at this time," said Julie Kwiecinski, director of provincial affairs for Ontario at the CFIB.
The Wynne government is trying to send a message that businesses are doing well in Ontario, and the most vulnerable workers now need a boost.
"The prosperity that we're seeing in the Ontario economy now has to be shared by everybody," Flynn told reporters Monday at Queen's Park.
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Flynn said there's no clear evidence that minimum wage increases are detrimental to businesses.
"If you look at Seattle and San Francisco, it appears from the early reports coming out that it's actually increasing employment in those areas," said Flynn. "It hasn't had the doomsday scenario for business and I don't think it's going to happen with anything we do here. "
About 1.5 million Ontario workers earn less than $15 an hour.
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