Minimum wage workers will no longer receive a $1-per-hour increase on Jan. 1 and many Ryerson students are not happy.
The Ontario Progressive Conservative government announced last Tuesday that the minimum wage will be capped at $14 an hour until October 2020.
“I’m really upset about the change,” said Alexandra Cox, a fourth-year RTA School of Media student. “As a minimum wage worker and a full-time student, the increase would’ve been really beneficial.”
Minimum wage workers were anticipating a $1 wage increase in 2019 after the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (Bill 148) was introduced by the Liberal government in its last term.
Robyn Smith, a third-year international economics and finance student at Ryerson, made a job change last month because of the minimum wage increase.
“I switched jobs because I was anticipating the dollar increase.”
Smith was a server for the past three years. She recently decided to accept a retail position because the hours fit better with her schedule and she assumed the pay would be the same as her previous job starting on Jan. 1.
“If I had known that the government was going to repeal the dollar increase, I would have stayed at my old job. I only accepted this job offer because I thought I would be getting paid the same as my current job.”
Ford’s government introduced the Making Ontario Open for Business Act to repeal Bill 148. Alongside the $14 minimum wage cap, there will also be changes to the personal leave day policies. Previously, workers were entitled to 10 personal emergency leave days including two with pay. The changes will now include only eight days, all of which are unpaid.
The Imperial Pub, located on Dundas Street near Ryerson’s campus, entertains many Ryerson students for work and play. The owner of the small business, Fred Newman, agrees with the $15 an hour wage increase, but says the emergency leave days have always been a controversial topic.
“Everyone should be entitled to at least three bona fide sick days a year, absolutely. Maybe even five,” Newman says. “I do believe that people are entitled to days off when they’re sick. The emergency leave ones were a little too much of a gray area for me although obviously it was still fine.”
These changes are meant to “bring jobs and investment back in to our province by lightening the burden on business and making sure that hard work is rewarded,” according to the Ontario government’s website.
Ford used the slogan “for the people” throughout his campaign for premier. But many say this reform is the exact opposite.
“I see that they’ve talked to small business owners but they really haven’t talked to students,” said Savreen Gosal, vice-president of operations at the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU). Gosal disagrees with the repeal of Bill 148 and says the government should be reaching out to students to hear their opinion.
“Right now they’re just looking at the corporation’s point of view. I think talking to students and just really looking at the students’ perspective would really play a big factor in the situation, especially being at Ryerson..”
Newman agrees that the $15 minimum wage increase should be a fundamental right for Ontario’s “most basic workers” and small business owners should be able to adapt to the change.
“You accommodate the way you can, you economize how you can. If you have to raise prices a little bit, you do,” he said. “With some small business owners who agree with Ford, [would] they all say, ‘no we can’t do that, that’s too much. We’d rather see our workers starve?’.”
Cox says that, even as a student, she can understand small business owners being frustrated with the increase. But she suggests the government should be taking more responsibility.
“I think that the government needs to give tax breaks to small business owners to hire people at a higher minimum wage. My parents are small business owners and they were really angry when it [minimum wage] went up because it affected them way more than the big retail stores that employ me,” she said. “But they also value their employees as well and do give them raises each year because they know that they deserve it. So I think the government should help out in these situations so that there are still jobs [provided].”
Cox says $14 an hour is barely enough to survive on.
“I don’t know how people who have families or kids to support are doing it, honestly. It’s shocking that people can live on $14 an hour,” she said. “I already have school loans that I will need to start paying off when I graduate in May and it could be some time before I get a full-time higher paying job in my field.
“The $1 per hour increase would have given me some breathing room to keep working retail until I can find a position in my field, but now I feel more pressure to get a higher paying full-time job much faster.”
Additional changes to provisions of Bill 148 include: no longer being paid a minimum of three hours pay in the event a shift is cancelled 48 hours or less before it was scheduled; and part-time or casual workers no longer have to be paid the same as full-time workers.
The bill will keep the regulations passed by the Liberal government that grant workers up to 10 days of leave if they or their child experiences domestic or sexual violence. It will also continue to grant workers three weeks of paid vacation after five years of service.
Starting in the fall of 2020, wage increases will be based on inflation, but any other increases will be on pause.
Cox said she hopes that the Progressive Conservative government will reconsider Bill 148.“Empowering people by paying them what they deserve is essential in a society that values hard work,” Cox said. “For some reason the Ford government just doesn’t understand that.”