$15 minimum wage, workplace changes set to pass in Ontario

Key legislation to drive up Ontario's minimum wage up by 32 per cent and force employers to pay part-time workers at the same rate as full-time workers is poised to pass on Wednesday.

Kathleen Wynne's Liberals pushing through labour reforms with election little more than 6 months away

Hundreds of people took part in Toronto's annual Labour Day parade in support of bill 148. (CBC)

Key legislation to drive up Ontario's minimum wage and allow nearly all workers to take sick days is poised to pass on Wednesday. 

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, introduced by Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government, is set for a final vote in the Ontario Legislature.

The bill is the centrepiece of Wynne's 2018 re-election effort, as she aims to convince voters that her government is making things fairer for people struggling to get by. Opponents are saying the reforms will kill jobs and drive up costs for consumers while benefiting the Liberals' allies in the union movement.

Among the main provisions of the bill:

  • Hike the minimum wage from the current $11.60/hr to $14/hr on Jan. 1, a 21 per cent increase. The minimum wage would be set to rise again on Jan. 1, 2019 to $15/hr.
  • Give a minimum of 10 days of personal emergency leave, including at least two paid days, to all workers covered by the provincial Employment Standards Act. 
  • Require employers to pay part-time, temporary and casual workers at the same rate as full-time staff doing the same job.
  • Force employers to pay three hours of wages for cancelling a worker's scheduled shift less than 48 hours in advance.
  • Make it easier for unions to organize in such sectors as temporary help agencies and building maintenance.
The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act would require employers in Ontario to compensate employees with three hours of pay if a scheduled shift is cancelled less than 48 hours in advance. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

The sharp increase in the minimum wage is proving to be the most controversial element of the labour reforms, with business groups warning that tens of thousands of jobs will be lost. The parties, facing an election in June 2018, are also drawing battle lines over the issue.   

The government estimates that some 1.6 million workers in Ontario currently earn less than $15 an hour. 

"We on this side of the House think it's time for those people to have an increase in their pay," said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn in question period last week. "They're trying to raise families. They're trying to buy groceries. They're trying to buy shoes for their kids. They're trying to pay their rent."

The opposition Progressive Conservatives say the hike to $15 is happening too fast. If elected next June, the PCs would slow down the phase-in, raising the minimum wage annually by 25 cents an hour so that it only reaches $15 in 2022. 

"Tens of thousands of people ... will lose their jobs just because the minister wants to use the minimum wage for crass political gain," said PC labour critic John Yakabuski in question period last week. 

NDP leader Andrea Horwath committed to a $15 minimum wage in April 2016, more than a year before the Liberals endorsed the idea. 

The government's timetable puts Ontario on track to be the second province to hit the $15 mark, as the minimum wage in Alberta is due to reach that level in October 2018.

The Liberals proposed their labour reforms and minimum wage increase in late May. The legislation has been making its way through Queen's Park since then, including public hearings, ahead of Wednesday's final vote.