WYNNE TOUR HITS WINDSOR
Minimum-wage increases attract attention
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne heard first-hand from local labour and business leaders Friday their commitment and concerns over proposed changes to the province’s minimum wage and other employment rules.
The roundtable discussion on labour, held at St. Clair College’s Ford Centre for Excellence in Manufacturing, focused on the changes that would make work less precarious for many of Ontario’s lowest paid workers.
“It’s really heartening that we all agree on that (objective) and now we just have to find a balance,” Wynne said following her meeting with representatives from the Windsor-Essex Chamber of Commerce, WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, the college, the University of Windsor, Unifor, health care and notfor-profit organizations.
“It’s very important to do what we can as a society, and the government is part of that, to make sure people can look after themselves and that people can look after their families,” she said.
Under proposed legislation, minimum wage would increase to $15 on Jan. 1, 2019.
Matt Marchand, chamber president and CEO, said businesses want a longer rollout in the hike.
In addition to a five-year phasein for the minimum wage hike, Marchand said Ontario has to start looking at “cost offsets” for business including changes to electricity prices, cap-and-trade and payroll taxes.
“We’ve got a great business community. We’ve got a great labour community. We can compete with anybody, but we have to have a similar cost structure,” Marchand said. “We don’t need to be the cheapest, but we need to be competitive.”
Unifor Local 444 president Dino Chiodo said the meeting allowed many voices to be heard on issues relevant to everybody.
“I think this gave us an opportunity to come together and really let the premier see that Windsor is a dynamic community trying to bring ideas and figure out how we grow together,” Chiodo said.
Giving no specifics, he said there are some “great first steps” with the legislation, but there are things that can be improved.
“We don’t want situations where individuals cannot afford to keep their business open,” he said. “What I do know is that we’ve got to take care of everybody together. How do we get people together so they’re all making livable wages and how do we boost our economy in order to facilitate getting that done?”
Wynne admitted there will be challenges, but she said she’s had positive feedback on the proposed changes from some small business owners, specifically on the issue of keeping trained workers.
“(They) said it will improve their ability to retain their workers. By increasing the minimum wage, we’re actually creating a situation where businesses … will be able to retain their workers because the playing field will be more level.”
Wynne said issues raised Thursday by greenhouse growers around seasonal agricultural workers’ wages and shift scheduling, as well as those raised Friday, will be addressed in a report expected this fall.
“I have committed to bringing forward some proposals in the fall that would support business in ways that, as I say, will allow them to go through this transition,” she said.
Wynne also met with Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and city councillors on Friday.
Dilkens said the three main issues discussed with the premier were the new mega-hospital, funding for the Paul Martin building and the Canadian Club brand centre.
Dilkens was seeking some assurance that the hospital will move to Stage 2.
“Even though the money is there they haven’t moved to the next stage yet,” he said.
And the mayor brought up one of his most passionate issues — convincing the government to change the rules that prohibit the sale of Canadian Club because of distilling licence issues.
“I said to the premier today … we’re talking about a business that’s been in business continually since before Ontario was Ontario,” Dilkens said. “It’s frustrating. This is something that’s very important to the community.”
He said she was sympathetic and agreed to look into it.
“The more times she hears it the more she knows it’s not going away and we’re not giving up.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met with Head Start volunteers at the Toldo Health Education and Learning Centre Friday, just one of the many stops Wynne made during a whirlwind visit to Windsor.