Tribune Express - - LA UNE - GREGG CHAMBERLAIN gregg.chamberlain@eap.on.ca

Haw­kes­bu­ry Cham­ber of Com­merce Pre­sident An­to­nios Tsou­rou­na­kis stands out­side his res­tau­rant, the De­ja Vu bis­tro, one of ma­ny small bu­si­nesses which may ex­pe­rience a se­vere sha­keup from the pro­vin­cial go­vern­ment’s plans to raise the On­ta­rio mi­ni­mum wage to $15 wi­thin two years. Haw­kes­bu­ry Cham­ber of Com­merce has de­ve­lo­ped a five-year plan for achie­ving the pro­vin­cial go­vern­ment’s goal wi­thout cau­sing chaos in the bu­si­ness sec­tor and pos­sible layoffs or re­du­ced hours for some wor­kers.

No one is ar­guing against rai­sing the mi­ni­mum wage in On­ta­rio. Both bu­si­ness and la­bour groups agree that an in­crease is long over­due. The ques­tion is how to keep that in­crease from brea­king the back of small bu­si­ness and Haw­kes­bu­ry Cham­ber of Com­merce thinks that it has the so­lu­tion.

Last week An­to­nios Tsou­rou­na­kis, pre­sident of the Haw­kes­bu­ry Cham­ber of Com­merce, led a de­le­ga­tion for his own group and other cham­bers of com­merce in the Pres­cott-Rus­sell re­gion, to air their concerns to the Uni­ted Coun­ties of Pres­cott-Rus­sell coun­cil (UC­PR) about Bill 148, the pro­vin­cial go­vern­ment’s plan for in­crea­sing the mi­ni­mum wage in On­ta­rio and al­so deal with other is­sues af­fec­ting em­ployees’ pri­vi­leges and rights in the work­place. Tsou­rou­na­kis em­pha­si­zed that he and other bu­si­ness ow­ners sup­port seeing an in­crease to On­ta­rio’s mi­ni­mum wage but they wor­ry that the pro­vin­cial go­vern­ment is ru­shing things and that Bill 148 will hurt more than help both small bu­si­nesses and their em­ployees.

“No one can be against hel­ping those at the bot­tom rung of so­cie­ty,” Tsou­rou­na­kis said told UC­PR coun­cil du­ring its Sept. 27 ses­sion. “No one is against paying people a fair wage, and per­haps $15 is the right num­ber, a num­ber we should as­pire to. But how do we get to there from here?”

In Ja­nua­ry 2018 the mi­ni­mum wage in On­ta­rio goes to $14 an hour with a fur­ther in­crease a year la­ter to $15. Both the bu­si­ness sec­tor and ma­ny mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ties fear that such a ra­pid in­crease in the mi­ni­mum wage could wreak ha­voc with their bud­ge­ting plans and could re­sult in ei­ther re­du­ced hours or layoffs for both full-time and part­time and ca­sual staff.

Tsou­rou­na­kis, who owns and ope­rates the Dé­ja Vu bis­tro in Haw­kes­bu­ry, used his own ex­pe­rience as a res­tau­ra­teur to illus­trate the po­ten­tial im­pact on his staf­fing bud­get

from the pro­vin­cial go­vern­ment’s plans for rai­sing the mi­ni­mum wage.

“In my kit­chen on­ly the star­ting dis­h­wa­shers are paid mi­ni­mum wage at $11.40. The rest of the crew is paid $12.50 for new line co­oks, $14 for those co­oks with some ex­pe­rience, $16.50 for those that have been

thAe mcy heatd chief with me for ma­ny years, $18 for those just be­low my chef, and at top, who makes in ex­cess of $20 an hour. On Jan. 1 when the new mi­ni­mum wage is $14, do you think that my ex­pe­rien­ced co­oks, those ma­king $14 right now, will be hap­py that a raw re­cruit off the street who joins as a dis­h­wa­sher and earns the same as them?”

Tsou­rou­na­kis no­ted that his staff and em­ployees at other bu­si­nesses will all ex­pect raises once the new mi­ni­mum wage le­vel takes ef­fect next Ja­nua­ry and again a year la­ter when the mi­ni­mum wage rises again. He al­so no­ted that he and other bu­si­ness ow­ners will have to fi­gure out how to re­co­ver the cost of those wage in­crease through ei­ther in­creases in the price of their goods and ser­vices or else pos­sible cuts in staf­fing num­bers or hours wor­ked. He al­so no­ted that Haw­kes­bu­ry bu­si­nesses face com­pe­ti­tion from across the ri­ver in Qué­bec which does not have the same mi­ni­mum wage as On­ta­rio.

“This isn’t a small, ea­si­ly di­ges­tible in­crease,” he said. “It is huge, and it puts ma­ny bu­si­nesses at risk if they are unable to pass on these in­creases.”

Haw­kes­bu­ry Cham­ber of Com­merce, with sup­port of its coun­ter­parts el­sew­here in Pres­cott-Rus­sell and al­so from the On­ta­rio Cham­bers of Com­merce and the Ca­na­dian Cham­bers of Com­merce, has de­ve­lo­ped an al­ter­na­tive pro­po­sal to the mi­ni­mum wage sec­tion of Bill 148.

The On­ta­rio mi­ni­mum wage le­vel would still in­crease to $15 an hour but would do so over a five-year span and not cram­med in­to two years.

The cham­bers of com­merce all be­lieve this gra­dual pha­sing in of a $15 an hour mi­ni­mum wage will give both the bu­si­ness sec­tor and al­so mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ties time to re­view and re­vamp their bud­get plan­ning to ac­com­mo­date the in­crease.

The UC­PR coun­cil vo­ted that it will sup­port the five-year mi­ni­mum wage plan which Haw­kes­bu­ry Cham­ber of Com­merce will for­ward to the pro­vin­cial go­vern­ment.

—photo d’ar­chives

L’an­née pro­chaine, le sa­laire mi­ni­mum en On­ta­rio s’élè­ve­ra à 14 $ l’heure, puis à 15 $ l’an­née. De nom­breux pro­prié­taires de pe­tites en­tre­prises et aus­si des mu­ni­ci­pa­li­tés craignent que ce­la ne fasse des ra­vages avec leur pla­ni­fi­ca­tion bud­gé­taire et...

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