Matt Marchand, president of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, prepares to testify at a hearing on a proposed minimum wage increase for Ontario, at the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts in Windsor on July 14, 2017. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Chamber Calls For Changes To Minimum Wage Bill

The head of the local chamber of commerce is suggesting amendments to a proposed change in Ontario’s minimum wage.

Matt Marchand, president of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, testified before an Ontario legislative committee Friday as part of a day-long public hearing at the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts in Windsor. Representatives from area businesses, as well as local unions and the general public, were invited to provide their take on Bill 148, the key provision of which would raise Ontario’s minimum wage.

Marchand, who is not opposed to the minimum wage increase, would like to see it eased in, rather than the proposed jump to $14/hr in January 2018 and $15/hr in January 2019. The current minimum wage in Ontario, according to the province, is $11.40/hr for general labour.

“Do a five-year phase-in for minimum wage to help small business and agriculture like they do in California,” says Marchand.

Other amendments suggested by Marchand include offsetting costs and clamping down on the rules concerning emergency leave days.

The $15/hr minimum wage proposal is the centrepiece of Bill 148, which if approved, would be an amendment of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 as well as the Labour Standards Act, 1995. Other provisions include adjusting scheduling guidelines to require businesses to pay an employee three hours worth of salary even if the employee works less than three hours in a shift, and minimum pay for being on-call. Employers will also be required to pay three hours’ worth to an employee whose scheduled shift is cancelled within 48 hours of the shift’s start.

Marchand suggests exemptions to that rule in the auto industry as well as in Essex County’s strong agricultural sector.

“Some companies in the auto sector often experience brief power outages of seconds or minutes that requires many hours to reset for production,” says Marchand. “If it happens on a Thursday or Friday, they can’t reschedule for Saturday due to the 48-hour rule.”

Other changes in the proposed bill include amending the requirements for paid holidays, and requiring employees to offer a minimum of three weeks’ paid vacation for full-time employees with at least five years of service.

Marchand believes that wages and scheduling aside, it would be more important to make Ontario more conducive to business growth with more skilled workers to fill specialized, high-paying positions, which some Windsor-Essex manufacturers are having trouble filling.

“If we want to get wages up, the best way to do that is to skill our people up,” says Marchand. “The government should be joining us in focusing on getting Ontarians skills with the jobs that are in demand. Jobs that pay $20, $30 or more per hour.”

Members of the legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs heard testimony Friday. With the Liberal government, the majority of regular members were Liberal MPPs, with the others in the opposition parties.

Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls, a Tory, and Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield of the NDP sat in with the committee members. Nicholls pointed out the rising costs of labour in Ontario that Marchand referred to in his remarks. Hatfield, on the other hand, asked Marchand for examples of cost offsetting. Marchand replied that the chamber is putting together an economic impact analysis which would be presented within a few weeks.

The standing committee heard Friday from labour unions, who are in favour of a minimum wage hike, and local businesses who oppose it and are worried about increased costs.

The committee is expected to hold a public hearing in London on Monday. For complete information on Bill 148, visit the Ontario Legislature’s website at www.ontla.on.ca.