Waterloo Region residents give input on rising minimum wage

The provincial government committee looking at new rules for workers in Ontario heard from Kitchener-area residents and groups yesterday about the plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019.

'It is criminal to pay somebody $11.40 an hour,' says former foreign executive

Helmi Ansari said he doesn't make as much as before when he worked for a large corporation, but he sleeps better at night knowing he pays his employees a fair wage. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo examines and presents perspectives on Ontario's proposed Bill 148, a revision of labour standards in Ontario.

The provincial government committee held a public consultation in Kitchener yesterday for the plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, where business owners expressed concerns about making ends meet.

Chuck McMullan said he can't imagine what would happen if he tried to raise prices to accommodate for the proposed increase in minimum wage. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

"Strictly the minimum wage increase, all by itself, is going to increase our expenses by $106,000, or 6.7 per cent. That doesn't factor in paid sick days at all," Chuck McMullan, owner of McMullan's pub in Kitchener told CBC News.

McMullan said when he raised the price of a pint of beer by 0.25 cents last year, his regular customers boycotted the establishment.

Another business owner, Jamie Arnold, the president of Little Short Stop Stores said while raising prices is doable, they will be at a disadvantage.

"We're in a competitive situation. Only one third of our businesses are products that we can actually raise prices on," Arnold said.

He said those products are common items like bread and milk, and people know the prices of those things. 

Sacrifices for a fair wage

However, not all business owners were opposed to raising the wage.

Helmi Ansari, owner of Grosche International, a tea and coffeeware distributor in Cambridge told CBC he has been paying his employees more than the minimum wage for years.

"We can't raise prices. So we've taken it out of our margin, but we've saved it in terms of the low cost of turnover," Ansari said.

He said by paying people a fair wage, they stayed with his business for longer and he has been able to cut down costs on constantly recruiting and training new employees.

Ansari said he and his wife has also kept their salary the same for the past ten years so he could pay his employees better.

"I spend more waking time with them than I do with my kids," he said, "If they're not able to put food on the table or pay their bills, I can't sleep well at night."

Marjorie-Ann Knight had to live in a shelter once with her twins when she struggled to pay bills with a minimum wage income. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

'It's criminal'

Marjorie-Ann Knight struggled to pay bills and put food on the table.

She came to Canada in 2001 and had trouble finding employment because she was told she 'had no Canadian experience,' even though she was an executive manager at a resort back home in Jamaica.

"It is criminal to pay somebody $11.40 an hour," Knight said, "How do you even function when you have to sit there and go, do I have enough money for bus fare to go to work?"

She told CBC News that all the money she makes goes to feed her twins.

"You can't go to school on an empty belly, you will not learn," she said, "So everything I make has to go to my kids."

Knight said at one point she had to live at The Bridges shelter in Cambridge with her twins because she couldn't pay rent.

"It's just an absolute awful feeling in the pit of your belly that you have failed your children."

Files from Jackie Sharkey


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