With files from Dawn Huddlestone
While some are applauding increases to minimum wage in Ontario, others are reeling over the changes and trying to figure out how to soften the blow.
According to Debbie Knoblesdorf, owner of West Side Fish and Chips, the increases will cost the business she owns and runs with her mother an additional $35,000 this year and roughly $50,000 next year when the minimum wage goes from $14 to $15 per hour.
What people don’t realize is that this is a win-win for the Wynne government. It had absolutely nothing to do with her caring about the people. It came down to tax dollars in her pocket. As soon as she raises minimum wage everything goes up CPP, EI, income tax – it all goes up, WSIB goes up. Everybody is going to raise their prices and what’s that going to mean? More tax revenue! Debbie Knobelsdorf, owner of West Side Fish and Chips Restaurant
She said the legislated increases have been so drastic in such a short period of time that it leaves very little room for employers to compensate based on merit. “I’ve just given huge raises to people who don’t even deserve the ones they got before, that the government gave them, and students should be seven or eight bucks an hour coming out of high school not thirteen something. There’s no room for incentive raises. You know, ‘you’re doing a good job, here’s 50 cents (more per hour).’ I can’t do that anymore,” she said.
In order to mitigate the impact of an almost 30 per cent increase to wages by the time 2019 rolls around, Knobelsdorf said she’ll be looking at reducing hours of operation and staff complement, as well as reducing her own wages and taking on extra shifts. Before, she tried to keep staff on during slower times, especially during winter months, but she’ll have to rethink that approach. She said she’s been trying not to impact her staff — some of them have been with the business for 30 years — but she sees no alternative.
“I lowered my wage, which is what the government wants owners to do, but we’re not multi-billionaires. My mom, yes, she goes to Florida but that’s because she’s worked her whole freaking life. I don’t go to Florida every year and I’ve been here 38 years, so we’re not rich off this business, it’s just a business we love,” said Knoblesdorf whose restaurant employs about 20 people.
Knoblesdorf said they even hired a consultant in Toronto to help them navigate through the new labour laws and figure out how to mitigate the impacts those changes will have on the business.
“People strike for a three to five per cent raise, usually given over a period of time, and the government thinks it’s okay to simply force us to give a 20 per cent raise, plus all of the other perks they’ve added in.”
Others see the changes differently
Jenny Spring and Oliver Wolfe are the new owners of Family Place Restaurant. They also worked hard running The Spring Farm on Aspdin Road, paying themselves a salary of $14 per hour but working so many hours that it worked out to much less than that. “It’s really hard to survive in Huntsville at ($14 an hour),” said Spring. “We’ve always paid our employees well. Even on the farm we paid them more than minimum wage because we just believe that if you’re going to have good workers, who are working hard for you, then you need to pay them well and it comes back in the business later if you have good employees who stick around for a long time and part of that is paying them well and treating them well.”
Spring’s first job out of university was working for the Canadian Labour Congress. “That’s the government body that lobbies for labour rights for employees. That’s my background and now I’m an employer, and so I see both sides,” said Spring.
I see how you have to treat your employees right and pay them well. It’s challenging, the big hike – it would have been nice if it happened over a longer period of time, slowly. I think that’s what’s going to really hurt small businesses. But overall we are happy to pay our employees well, that’s just something that we want to do. I think people should be paid for the hard work they put in… We haven’t changed any prices, we’ve just raised wages Jenny Spring, owner of Family Place Restaurant
Councillor Bob Stone chairs the Town’s Economic Development Committee, he sits on the board of the Downtown BIA and is the former owner of Christmas Tyme on Huntsville’s Main Street. He said while he’s concerned about the hardship that some small businesses will face, and consequences such as price increases and cut backs on minimum wage hours, in the long run he thinks raising wages will benefit society at large. “Today businesses are hurting… the economy is not that great right now anyway, and now to throw this on their backs – they are just pulling their hair out… Ten years from now, looking back on it, I think the ones that will survive will be better for it and so will the people,” said Stone.
“If previous governments were better, we would have been at this point a long time ago. This huge jump is painful, absolutely. But now, this is what I like about the legislation is that once this is done we don’t have to visit this anymore. No more devastating jumps in minimum wage for small businesses, it’s going to be the cost of living year-upon-year and that’s going to move with the economy, so we never have to have this pain again,” opined Stone.
In terms of some of the other changes in the legislation, like two paid sick days, Stone thinks it will help level the labour field.
We have great disparity between the haves and have-nots. You’ve got the union employees and the publicly funded employees and you’ve got everybody else. The unions and the government employees have been getting enormous (benefits)…12 sick days and they use them as holidays and make sure they use them all up, every year, and the little guy who is working at Tim Hortons gets nothing. If he doesn’t show up for work, he gets nothing even if he has to go to the doctor or have some surgery. So, does this bring it more in line? Yes. Councillor and former business owner, Bob Stone
“Society is heading towards a basic income for all, I think. It’s even been suggested that maybe that would’ve been the proper step for the province to take at this time but it may be a little premature. Let some others experiment with that to see if it flies,” he said. “I hope small businesses survive and I hope they’re being good to their people.”
Kelly Haywood, Executive Director for the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce, said many local business owners are stressed over the changes. Although they knew the changes were coming, many now find themselves trying to figure out how to make the changes work within their business.
“It had to happen, but I think the roll out was very poor and much too quick,” said Haywood. “There are a lot of changes in that bill.” Haywood has been sharing this booklet (pdf) from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce with her organization’s members to help them navigate through the new legislation. You can also find a link to the changes on the government of Ontario website here.
By the numbers, this is how minimum wages have changed in Ontario since 2016:
|Category||2016||Oct.1 2017||Jan.1, 2018||Jan.1, 2019|
|General minimum wage||$11.40/h||$11.60/h||$14.00/h||$15.00/h|
|Students under 18 who work not more than 28 hours per week when school is in session, or work during a school break or summer holidays||$10.70/h||$10.90/h||$13.15/h||$14.10/h|
|Hunting and Fishing guides working five or more hours a day||$113.95||$116.00||$140.00||$150.00|
|Hunting and Fishing guides working less than five consecutive hours a day||$56.95||$58.00||$70.00||$75.00|
|Homeworkers (employees doing paid work in their own home for an employer)||$12.55/h||$12.80/h||$15.40/h||$16.50/h|
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.