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Business Owners Working Through Bill 148 - Release from Belleville & Quinte West Chambers

The start of 2018 brought with it changes for employers in Ontario with the implementation of Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act).  For many businesses in the province, this legislation is going to have minimum impact on their operations but for some sectors, especially those that rely on a workforce of entry-level employees the impact is going to create new challenges for them.  This is especially true if the business is in a sector that has small profit margins such as restaurants, fast food outlets, grocery stores, agriculture, construction, continuing care and assisted living facilities, just to name a few.

“Employers have to implement changes to keep their businesses profitable and many are raising prices, cutting back hours or cutting benefits,” said Suzanne Andrews, General Manager at the Quinte West Chamber.  “There has already been one business close in Quinte West because they could not keep their business viable with these higher wages and I really hope we do not see many more.  None of these decisions are easy, and we have to support our small businesses as they work their way through these changes, the recent vilification of small business owners for doing what is needed to keep their doors open is really troubling and not helpful in any way.” 

“The Liberal government would like you to believe raising the minimum wage to $14 (and $15/hour) is somehow going to reduce poverty and that business owners have been the greatest barrier in the fight against it,” said Jill Raycroft, CEO at the Belleville Chamber of Commerce.  “The living wage in Belleville is estimated to be around $16; Toronto’s at nearly $19/hr.  In the highly competitive job market for low-skilled employees in this area, most employers were paying above the minimum wage even for new employees and for those employers looking for higher-skilled, qualified, educated and experienced employees they were already paying in the $15 - $17/hour range if not more.  Our members were not worried about how they would raise from $11.60 - $14/hr but from $15/hr to $18 to be fair to their existing employees.”

Bill 148 has brought in other reforms to Ontario’s current labour and employment standards laws, not just the 32% increase to a $15 minimum wage by January 2019.  One local employer tried numerous times throughout December to get information from the Ministry of Labour on how to calculate the new personal emergency leave (PEL) and was told the information was not available yet.  When businesses have tried to call the hotline all they get is a busy signal with the ministry admitting they are receiving a large volume of inquiries.  There will be a Face Book live session on January 29 by the ministry to help employers calculate the new PEL but with new fines and penalties part of the legislation it is imperative that the ministry get all the information businesses need to be compliant out as soon as possible.

“Along with all the other changes in Bill 148 such as increased vacation time and sick/personal days, the one causing the most confusion at the moment is the new calculation for stat holiday pay,” said Dave Fairfield, owner of Quinte Payroll.  “I have had many clients calling me for clarification and it looks like this is going to be especially nightmarish for anyone with part-time and casual employees as the formula is very complicated and is going to see a pretty remarkable increase in how much will need to be paid out.”

With an increased emphasis on inspecting workplaces, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said Monday that up to 175 new employment standards officers are being hired with the goal of inspecting 10% of workplaces to ensure they are compliant.  It would be great if they could also hire more officers to answer the hotline so businesses can get the help they need to navigate through this new legislation instead of receiving a busy signal.  Minister Flynn said “the stories we’ve all heard over the past week have not only been disappointing, but quite frankly they’ve made the premier, myself, and others in this province angry.”

“I have spoken with many business owners this past week and they are not happy with the negative tone being used against businesses,” said Andrews. “Minister Flynn feels that businesses are abandoning the spirit of the legislation, what he fails to understand is that the rushed implementation of Bill 148 and the  ongoing criticism against them has made many business owners just as angry, they feel like the province has abandoned them and put their businesses at risk just so they can win the next election.”