Lisa Gervais: We're all getting the short end of the stick
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | May 25, 2017|
We’re going to be hearing a lot more about the province’s Changing Workplaces Review in coming weeks.
Our local business community, represented by the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, got publicly involved on May 15 when it issued a press release warning against proposed reforms to the Ontario Labour Relations Act and Employment Standards Act.
The chamber is naturally aligning itself with its provincial counterpart in cautioning against change, including a proposed $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Since issuing that release, we’ve heard that at least one chamber director doesn’t agree.
And that isn’t at all surprising. The proposed changes are sensitive and divisive. They pit business owners against struggling workers, right here in our county.
We can empathize with both camps. Many local business simply can’t afford that kind of a minimum wage jump. The general minimum wage is now $11.40-an-hour. That’s up from $9.25 in 2010 – a 23 per cent increase. It’s poised to hit $11.60-an-hour in October. An extra $3.40-an-hour would be enormous.
It would come directly from the pockets of our local business owners in most cases. Their push-back isn’t greed; it’s survival.
These are the business owners who, in many if not most cases, get through every winter only by drawing on lines of credit; mortgaging their homes to keep employees employed; and skipping their own pay when there isn’t enough on payday.
Just look at the number of businesses that shut each year locally. Few people are flush.
Is a higher minimum wage needed? Of course it is. Talk to anyone who’s making $11.40-an-hour and you hear very depressing stories. Some people have been forced to take more than one part-time job to make ends meet. It’s a serious struggle to cover their high accommodation, food and hydro costs. No doubt about it, they are the working poor.
What they may not realize is that many of their employers are in the same boat.
If the province is going to forge ahead with this, the first thing it must do is distinguish between big and small business.
Obviously, an employer such as Bell Canada has to be treated differently than a small family-run business in a place like Haliburton, Wilberforce or Minden.
If the objective is to put more money into workers’ hands, then the province must start by getting its own house in order. It’s hard for small businesses to wrap their heads around these proposed changes when it has seen the province squander billions of dollars on cancelled contracts, only to turn around and gouge people with high hydro bills, new and increased user fees and continued service cuts.
And, what about that Sunshine List? If fewer public sector workers were making $100,000-plus a year, there would be more money for the vulnerable workers our premier is so worried about.
In fact, the public sector has done a fantastic job of protecting – and growing – its own wages while sapping the private sector. Why should wage increases come out of the pockets of small business owners instead of, say, the pockets of deputy ministers earning north of $300,000 per year?
This is not an economy structured to reward people for doing good work, be they employees or business owners. In that respect, we’re actually all on the same, short end of the stick.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.