Monday, June 5, 2017

This week, unions and workers’ advocates celebrated as Ontario became the second province in Canada to announce they will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Following a lead set a year ago by Alberta, the Ontario government announced a phased-in minimum wage increase, with indexing to inflation after that.

“Alberta took an incredible step a year ago when they announced they would raise the provincial minimum wage to $15 an hour — helping nearly 300,000 Albertans who currently struggle to make ends meet. There’s no doubt that bold move helped pave the way for the improvements we’re seeing in Ontario,” noted Canadian Labour Congress President, Hassan Yussuff.

Albertans have already seen the first step up in their minimum wage, which will raise again this October to $13.60 an hour. Yussuff dismissed fair wage opponents’ arguments against a $15 minimum wage, saying higher minimum wages reduce employee turnover, increase productivity and boost workers’ local spending ability.

“Experts have been studying minimum wage increases for decades. When you look at their research and the impacts of minimum wage increases in Alberta and several US jurisdictions, the evidence is clear: a higher minimum wage is good for workers and it’s good for businesses,” said Yussuff.

Along with minimum wages that allow full-time workers to stay above the poverty line, unions have long advocated safer, fairer working conditions for everyone in our changing economy. Last week, Alberta introduced legislation that supports this goal: Bill 17: The Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act, which includes a number of amendments to outdated provincial labour and employment standards legislation.

Among other changes, Bill 17 will make it easier for Alberta workers to exercise their right to join a union, support unions’ right to bargain collectively, and ensure workers who are sick, caring for a family member or experiencing domestic violence have access to job-protected time off. It will also repeal an offensive section of the Employment Standards Act that allowed people with disabilities to be employed at less than minimum wage.

This week, Ontario announced its own set of changes, including equal pay protections for part-time workers and improvements to shift scheduling and time off — both vacation and personal leaves for workers experiencing a family emergency.

“We’re very happy to see these changes happening to make it easier for workers to make ends meet, to balance work and family responsibilities, and to organize a union in their workplace,” said Yussuff.

Yussuff said the CLC is looking forward to working with the Alberta and Ontario governments on further improvements to ensure fairness for workers and their families. He also urged other provinces to take up the challenge of modernizing their own labour and employment legislation.

“Unpredictable hours, lack of access to sick or vacation time, barriers to unionization, wages so low that full-time workers are living in poverty: these are urgent, widespread issues. Alberta and Ontario have taken up that challenge, and now it’s time for the rest of the country to do the same,” Yussuff said.