Minimum wage increases 'too much, too soon': Sudbury Chamber of Commerce

Major changes are coming to workplaces across Ontario this January, and that's not sitting well with many local business owners.

Small businesses voicing concerns about minimum wage, schedule changes

Geoff Jeffries, Tracy Nutt and Karl Baldauf addressed the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce recently on proposed changes to the province's minimum wage.

Major changes are coming to workplaces across Ontario this January, and that's not sitting well with many local business owners.

The province has introduced Bill 148, new legislation that will bring dramatic reforms to labour and employment laws, including a boost to minimum wage, scheduled time off and paid personal emergency leave for all employees.

At a recent lunch and learn session, the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce set out to educate some local businesses about the impact of the bill.

Tracy Nutt, former Sudbury Chamber chair, said the changes will have "profound effects" on her business.

"By my calculation, the changes will increase my payroll by 29 per cent," Nutt said.

Nutt, who owns a janitorial services business, figures she has already had one client scale back their needs. That means one of her employees now works less.

"I'm afraid we're going to have employees losing hours," she said. "Fifteen dollars an hour is great...if you have a job."

Government has refused to run the numbers

Karl Baldaud, the vice president of policy and government relations with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said the government has refused to run the numbers, and isn't grasping the full impact of Bill 148.

"While the government may have a desire to help the most vulnerable in our society, the unintended consequences will leave the most vulnerable at risk," Baldauf said. "It will lead to job loss [and] an increase in the prices of goods and services we rely on."

But Jenny Fortin, the former executive director for Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre, said higher wages — whether imposed by minimum wage requirements or the business owner's largesse — ultimately benefits the community.

"We have the Social Planning Council in Sudbury that is paying $16. We have Muskoka Brewery that's paying a living wage," Fortin said.

"And my friends own a little...café in Guelph and they are a living wage employer right out of school. So it can be done."

"Time and time again [it] shows that employee retention is better, they don't have to spend additional costs on training…[and] their employees like them more, so they speak up more in the community about the business. All of these things add to business growth," she said.

Government seeking to support, not punish small business

In an email to CBC News, Blair Ostrom, spokesperson for the office of the Minister Responsible for Small Business, said the government is committed to bringing forward initiatives that help, not hurt, small businesses.

"We've...been working closely with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce through its local roundtables, like Friday's leadership luncheon in Sudbury, taking all feedback into consideration during this process," Ostrom wrote.

"We will continue to work with the business community to foster a competitive economic environment where they can thrive."

Bill 148's minimun wage increase to $15  takes effect in 2019.

Listen to the interview with CBC's Up North here.


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