Ford government freezing $14 minimum wage as part of labour reform rollbacks

Premier Doug Ford's government will freeze Ontario's minimum wage at $14 for another two years as part of a sweeping new bill that scraps many of the labour reforms brought in by the previous Liberal government in favour of more pro-business agenda.

Making Ontario Open for Business Act will scrap key Liberal workplace laws

Jim Wilson, minister of economic development, job creation and trade, unveils the changes to Ontario's labour laws at a news conference Tuesday morning. (CBC)

Premier Doug Ford's government will freeze Ontario's minimum wage at $14 for another two years with a sweeping new bill that scraps many of the labour reforms brought in by the previous Liberal government in favour of a more pro-business agenda.

The omnibus legislation, unveiled Tuesday, is designed to fulfil one of Ford's central campaign promises, to make Ontario "open for business." It will change several provincial laws, notably employment standards.

The new act will repeal the bulk of the Kathleen Wynne government's Bill 148, labour legislation that gives all Ontario workers a minimum of two paid sick days and forces employers to pay part-time and casual staff at the same rate as full-time workers.

The bill announced Tuesday, called the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, scraps the two paid sick days legislated by the previous government. It also cancels 10 personal emergency leave days and replaces that with up to three days for personal illness, two for bereavement and three for family responsibilities, all unpaid.

The bill also eliminates pay-equity for part-time and casual workers.

Christine, a woman who the CBC News has agreed not to identify to protect her job, works four part-time minimum wage jobs in Richmond Hill, Ont. 

"We knew that this was coming, but it still feels like I was kicked in the stomach," she said in an interview on Metro Morning. "How is he for the people if he's not increasing minimum wage?" 

You can listen to the full interview in the player below:

The Conservative government will not go ahead with the previous government's promise to increase the minimum wage to $15. For many low-wage workers, the news is devastating. But for some small business-owners, it comes as an enormous relief. 9:09

'Invest, grow'

Three cabinet ministers announced the changes this morning: Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson, Labour Minister Laurie Scott and Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton.

"We need to create an environment where businesses can grow and create good jobs," Wilson told reporters. "We have a real problem in Ontario with the high cost, delays and lost business associated with burdensome regulations."

Business groups such as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Council of Canada have been urging the Ford government to take away the new sick day and pay equity protections granted to Ontario workers this year.

On Tuesday, Ontario Chamber of Commerce chief executive Rocco Rossi said Bill 148 was a case of "too much, too fast."

In a statement, he said: "The compounding labour reforms and unintended consequences came at too high a cost to Ontario's economy. We are absolutely thrilled that the Government of Ontario is holding strong in its commitment to keep Ontario open for business."

Labour unions, however, were not enthused about the new bill.

'An enemy of workers'

"We've known for a long time that Doug Ford is no friend of workers, and with today's announcement he's proven exactly that," Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said during a news conference at Queen's Park.

"In fact, he's proven he's an enemy of workers."

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said the changes to labour laws will adversely affect precarious workers, such as occasional teachers.

"Ontario's economy is not going to grow when 40 per cent of working people do not have disposable income to fuel the economy nor the stability to feed their families," ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement.

"We've seen time and time again that 'open for business' really means that corporations and businesses get to operate carte blanche while suppressing wages and benefits needed by workers to survive."

Open for business

During his run for the Progressive Conservative leadership and during the election campaign, Ford frequently promised to put a neon sign at the border with the U.S. declaring Ontario open for business.

The PC government has already indicated it will not proceed with the scheduled increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, instead freezing it at $14. Tuesday's announcement included word that the government will freeze the minimum wage until October 2020, with subsequent increases tied to inflation.

Rolling back previous hikes would be "immensely unfair to Ontario workers," said Labour Minister Laurie Scott.

But, she went on, "Ontario workers and businesses deserve a minimum wage determined by economics, not politics."

The bill unveiled Tuesday also repeals changes to the Labour Relations Act that had made it easier for workers in various sectors to join a union.

The bill will also make changes to how skilled trades are governed in the province designed to "address the backlog" in the system, including scrapping the Ontario College of Trades, which governs apprenticeships in Ontario.

The province would replace the college with a new model for the regulation of skilled trades and apprenticeships by early 2019.

About one in five new jobs in Ontario are expected to be trades-related positions, the Ford government said in its eight-page release. But employers are facing barriers to getting the skilled workers they need, the statement went on, so changes are coming to the ratios of journeyperson to apprentice in trades that are subject to ratios, putting it at one-to-one. 

Wilson said Tuesday the PC government is working to reverse a "tsunami" of regulations by the previous Liberal government that brought unnecessary costs to businesses and stymied economic growth.

"We must get government out of the way of our job creators," Wilson said.