TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government will raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour starting June 1, and will tie future increases to the rate of inflation, but critics say it’s not enough to lift workers out of poverty.
Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the 75-cent-an-hour hike Thursday — the first minimum wage increase in the province since 2010 — calling it a “fair adjustment” that reflects the rise in the Consumer Price Index.
“I think the vast majority of people in Ontario understand that it’s very difficult to make ends meet living on minimum wage, and that there needs to be a fair way of allowing minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living.” she said.
Anti-poverty activists and unions have been demanding an immediate increase to a $14-an-hour minimum wage, but Wynne said that was too big of a jump for businesses to absorb all at once.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association admitted some store owners won’t like the $11 dollar minimum wage, “but it’s better than $14,” said CEO Dave Bryans.
“Some of our members might be upset, but there’s an adjustment period,” he said. “Many people get their first jobs at convenience stores or the fast food sector, and I believe it’s time that everybody had a fair wage.”
However, the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association warned the 75-cent hike will result in fewer jobs, calling it “unnecessary, tough for small business and counter-productive.”
The Retail Council of Canada likes the plan to link future hikes to inflation, but complained about using the Consumer Price Index to determine a catch-up raise for the past four years.
Amelia White of Toronto, a single mother who works full time in a grocery store for minimum wage, said she has to look for additional work so she can pay the bills.
“I have to decide if I want to pay for rent, hydro or buy food. It’s not enough to look after my child and it’s not enough to live on,” said White. “I pay my rent first and then I miss the bills and then I catch up the next month. It’s a cycle that goes on and on and on.”
The Canadian Federation of Students said “$11 is still legislating poverty,” while the Workers’ Action Centre said it will still leave workers below the poverty line.
“Going up with the cost of living every year is an important step forward, but a minimum wage that’s below the poverty line still puts workers behind,” said spokeswoman Sonia Singh.
Unifor, the union created by the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, said an $11 minimum wage “is too small, and locks in the poverty-level wages of the province’s lowest-paid workers.”
The Progressive Conservatives warned the 75-cent hike in the minimum wage would result in reduced hours for workers, or even job losses.
“If labour costs go up seven per cent, they’ve got to lay people off, putting them on unemployment,” said PC critic Jane McKenna. “What’s stopping a 40-hour week from becoming a 37-hour week?”
Wynne promised legislation to tie future increases in the minimum wage to the rate of inflation, and said the new rate would be announced April 1 each year and take effect Oct. 1, giving businesses six months advance notice.
The premier took a shot at the opposition parties as she urged them to support the legislation.
“It’s a little shocking to me that we have a Conservative party that seems not to care, seems not to think that it’s their responsibility to have an opinion or to care about people making minimum wage, and we have an NDP that has no position on this,” said Wynne.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath put out a statement promising to look at the Liberal plan to index future increases in the minimum wage to the CPI, without saying if she supports an increase in June to $11 an hour.