HAWKESBURY HAS THE SOLUTION
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.
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 pourrait même entraîner des mises à pied ou des heures réduites pour certains travailleurs. La Chambre de commerce de Hawkesbury et ses homologues du reste de PrescottRussell ont une solution possible qui permettrait d’augmenter la répartition du salaire minimum sur une période de cinq ans plutôt que de s’accrocher à une période de deux ans, comme le prévoit le gouvernement provincial.