The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LI­SON JONES

Com­mit­tee hear­ings will travel prov­ince to gauge public opin­ion on ini­tia­tive //

On­tario’s bid to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour — a move that is feared by busi­nesses but has the sup­port of some prom­i­nent econ­o­mists — is be­ing put to the public this week.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed leg­is­la­tion on labour re­forms, which also in­cludes equal pay for part-time work­ers, in­creased va­ca­tion en­ti­tle­ments and ex­panded per­sonal emer­gency leave, starts com­mit­tee hear­ings Mon­day that will travel the prov­ince.

The bill would boost the min­i­mum wage, which is set to rise with in­fla­tion from $11.40 an hour to $11.60 in Oc­to­ber, up to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018, and $15 the fol­low­ing year.

Busi­nesses are strongly op­posed to the in­crease, par­tic­u­larly the quick pace of it. A coali­tion of groups in­clud­ing the On­tario Cham­ber of Com­merce, Restau­rants Canada and the Cana­dian Fran­chise As­so­ci­a­tion are send­ing Pre­mier Kath­leen Wynne a let­ter Mon­day, slam­ming the “ar­bi­trary” in­crease.

Busi­ness groups had been call­ing for the gov­ern­ment to first per­form an eco­nomic anal­y­sis, and have now com­mis­sioned their own, which the coali­tion said will be com­plete next month.

“To plan ef­fec­tively and pro­tect jobs, em­ploy­ers need pre­dictabil­ity and time to ad­just the cost of other in­puts where we can,” the coali­tion writes. “There is no way to ab­sorb and ad­just to a 32 per cent hit in less than 18 months.”

Karl Wirtz, the CEO and founder of a pack­ag­ing com­pany in Bramp­ton, said he may have to con­sider bank­ruptcy. “This is some­thing that has got me scared out of my mind,” he said.

The min­i­mum wage in­crease will mean an ex­tra $1 mil­lion for WG Pro-Man­u­fac­tur­ing’s em­ploy­ees, Wirtz said. About half of them make min­i­mum wage and the rest will have to get com­men­su­rate pay bumps, he said. The com­pany, which does co-pack­ag­ing for foods and con­fec­tionery prod­ucts, is fo­cused on growth, Wirtz said, and as such is op­er­at­ing within tight mar­gins. He hasn’t bud­geted for an ex­tra $1 mil­lion a year and is locked into con­tracts with big cus­tomers. The only way he sees out of the pric­ing struc­ture is bank­ruptcy.

“You have to give busi­nesses an op­por­tu­nity to phase it into their pro­gram. So yes, let’s shoot for $14, let’s shoot for $15, but scale it over the next com­ing years,” Wirtz said.

The leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee will travel this week to Thun­der Bay, North Bay, Ot­tawa, Kingston and Wind­sor, and next week to Lon­don, Kitch­ener, Ni­a­gara Falls, Hamil­ton and Toronto.

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