Ontario will cap minimum wage at $14 an hour until fall 2020 as part of a rollback of labour reforms introduced by the previous Liberal regime, the Progressive Conservative government announced Tuesday, drawing praise from businesses and criticism from unions and anti-poverty advocates.
The government said new rules – which will link future minimum-wage increases to the inflation rate and reduce the number of personal leave days – will help cut red tape and encourage business investment.
"The previous government brought in a tsunami of new burdens and regulations that have imposed significant unnecessary costs on businesses and stifled economic growth," said Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson as the government detailed its proposed labour legislation.
Ontario's minimum wage increased from $11.60 to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, and was set to rise to $15 an hour next year as a result of the Liberals' labour laws. Under the government's new legislation, it will remain at $14 until October 2020.
Labour Minister Laurie Scott said the government will be using an "economically sound metric" to decide the rate of future increases.
"Ontario workers and businesses deserve a minimum wage determined by economics not politics," she said.
The government's labour bill, if passed, will also cut two paid personal leave days for workers, bringing their total to eight: three for personal illness, two for bereavement leave and three for family responsibilities.
The legislation keeps provisions brought in by the Liberals that granted workers up to 10 days of leave if they or their child experiences domestic or sexual violence. It will also maintain regulations that grant Ontario workers three weeks of paid vacation after five years of service.
But a number of scheduling provisions will be scrapped under the Tory bill, including a minimum of three hours pay in the event a shift is cancelled 48 hours or less before it was scheduled to begin.
"We will reverse the needless scheduling restrictions and give back employers the flexibility to have the right staff at the right time," Scott said.
The government's moves on the labour file were applauded by some in the business community who had argued against the minimum wage increase and labour reforms when they were brought in last year.
Jocelyn Bamford, of the Coalition of Concerned Manufacturers, said the wage hike was "too much too soon."
"This legislation will go a long way to maintaining the viability of small and medium businesses in the province and will help us save jobs," she said.
Others, however, said the government was undoing measures that had made life easier for families and vowed to push back.
"We've known for a long time that Doug Ford is no friend of workers," said Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley. "With today's announcement he's proven exactly that."
Pam Frache, of the advocacy group Fight for $15 and Fairness, said by rolling back Liberal labour reforms, Ford was breaking a campaign pledge to stick up for regular Ontario residents.
"What Mr. Ford has announced today is not a government that is for the people but a government for the corporate elite," she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was skeptical about whether the Ford government will actually follow through the pledge to increase the minimum wage in 2020.
"We'll have to wait," she said. "What we know for sure is that Ontario workers are being dragged backwards so Mr. Ford can hand out the goodies to his friends in the business community."