Ontario Businesses Won't Give Up Fight Against Minimum Wage Increase

Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has lost the battle against minimum wage increases set in motion by Katherine Wynne, but the business lobby group will likely win the war against minimum wage workers with Doug Ford on its side.

In a news release entitled “Ontario Chamber Calls on Provincial Government to Immediately Repeal Bill 148” dated Aug. 30, 2018, OCC framed its campaign against the previous provincial Liberal government’s legislation for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019 as public-interest advocacy for prudence in public policy making:

In addition to playing the role of reasonable policy entrepreneur, OCC claimed “the Ontario business community” hit on “a common theme” that “too much, too fast” labour policy changes “have significantly limited their ability to maintain or grow the workforce they need to be competitive.”

Despite having masked its anti-minimum wage crusade, OCC was not shy at all about how to get what it wants with a display of thinly veiled fear-instilling threats against workers such as “the need for businesses to decrease staff hours and capital investment, and an increased reliance on automation.”

Some may think OCC is saying that it has no problem with $14 but it just can’t stand $15 despite the fact that it seems to have never conceded that to the Wynne government. But what OCC campaigns for is to block the path to $15 while freezing minimum wage at its current level as a start.

OCC appears to be complaining about inadequate consultation. But under Employment Standards & Labour Regulation on its Key Issues advocacy page, OCC said it was “an active voice” during the consultation held by the previous provincial Liberal government when it was planning the legislation last year so there was consultation in which OCC participated actively. OCC just didn’t win the day.

OCC seems to be saying comprehensive economic analysis is wanting. But it is doubtful OCC will be willing to accept an “economic impact analysis” that it considers “comprehensive” enough if the study’s findings do not support its stance against higher minimum wage.

In its late 2017 handbook designed to facilitate its members to navigate through labour policy reforms such as minimum wage increases for its members, OCC spelled out the pending disasters to be caused by “the largest” change in minimum wage in 45 years that “could put close to 185,000 jobs at risk.”

However, in a brief note dated Aug. 10, 2018 National Bank of Canada found that job losses did not materialize:

To be sure, in Sept. 26, 2017 report TD Economics did say even the benefits of rapid minimum wage hikes may “generate more benefits to society than costs in terms of any resulting job loss” such increases may “accentuate the negative hit to Ontario employment.”

But if reasonable people evaluate a broader set of empirical evidence they might suspect whether OCC’s allusion to significant limitations to “grow the workforce” is entirely true. For example, in a Sept. 6, 2018 report analyzing the impact of minimum wage in six U.S. cities U.S. economists said they “cannot detect significant negative employment effects.” In a Sept. 6, 2018 study on minimum wage in Germany European researchers said they “conclude that the minimum wage has raised incomes in the lower part of the wage distribution without affecting employment of low-wage workers.”

OCC is taking a page from union-busting tactics institutionalized by Walmart — if workers want something businesses do not want to give, businesses can just claim that workers will get hurt by getting what they want hence in this case the mentioning of hours cut and work automated.

The undercurrent powering the “common theme” referred to by OCC is the kindred spirit of Doug Ford. OCC failed to kill the Wynne Liberal majority’s minimum wage bill last year but now with the Ford Progressive Conservatives’ majority in power OCC decided to have another go against what actually is a meek attempt to pay workers a tiny bit more — even that tiny bit more is still not enough to make the Ontario minimum wage a decent living wage.

Perhaps OCC believes what will do wonders as exemplary public policy making in the best interests of Ontario is the kind of comprehensiveness shown in Doug Ford’s campaign platform and the kind of consultation for his changes of the number of wards of Toronto City Council.

Those who think it will be possible to raise minimum wage in a way that is deemed NOT “too much, too fast” by OCC just might be setting themselves up for disappointment. The Globe and Mail reported what the OCC demanded the Ontario government to do:

That was the full second paragraph of an article entitled “Cut Tax, Drop Minimum Pay, Firms Urge” dated Dec. 9, 1982, over 35 years ago.

As labour activist David Bush wrote in rabble.ca, the resistance against minimum wage had been well-entrenched even before the introduction of the first hourly minimum wage legislation by the then Ontario Progressive Conservative government in 1963. Over half a century later, the way OCC is mustering all its might to fight against paying some workers $1 more an hour is still be a sight to behold.

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