Standing Committee Hearing on Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act – Video and Presentation

On Friday, July 14, 2017, I stood in front of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs hearing on Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.

To listen to my presentation, see the video below. The text of my comments are underneath.

I want to thank the committee for having the chamber speak today. I also want to acknowledge and thank the other participants here today.

While we may agree or disagree on various issues, we all seek a better, more prosperous Windsor-Essex region.

The WERCC has represented this region for over 141 years.

The WERCC has received 5 awards since 2012 for community leadership, advocacy excellence and community partnerships especially our non-partisan Policy and Solutions forum bringing business, labour and academia together to offer solutions to government. The deputy Premier participated in our last one.

Together our region, our province face unprecedented uncertainty and soaring costs.

A new U.S. Administration has aggressively pursued and will execute a policy of America First, Jobs first and NAFTA plan.

Its impacts could have enormous implications on Windsor Essex and Ontario as nearly 80% of Ontario’s exports led by auto and agriculture are to the USA.

Many of our employers big and small, have advised us that investment decisions regarding Windsor-Essex versus the U.S. are on hold pending NAFTA discussions and deep concern about Ontario’s increasing cost structure.

Windsor-Essex and Ontario have already lost hundreds of millions of dollars in agriculture investment to Ohio and tens of billions of dollars of auto investment to the Southern United States and Mexico and is on a continuation path.

That’s lost money and lost well paying middle class jobs that could have been used to pay for our health care, education and infrastructure. That’s why our non- partisan Policy and Solutions forum in 2016 asked the government for an auto strategy.

Ontario’s exports have been declining as a percentage of our GDP nearly 50% to 33% over the past 15 years. We are producing and selling less.

Ontario’s collective response so far is as follows:
1. Electricity costs up 400% and scheduled to surge yet again over the next 6 or so years. Our competitive jurisdictions like Ohio are 1/3 the costs.
2. Carbon Tax or Cap and Trade costing billions of dollars and punishing business and our middle class for using Ontario’s clean grid and rewarding Ontario companies to move to Ohio to plug into a coal plant. Chambers across Ontario have asked this program to be suspended for obvious reasons.
3. Additional payroll pension plan costs.

And now the government of Ontario introduces Bill 148 which raises the minimum wage by nearly 33% with collateral impacts on the wage structure as well, in addition to 400 pages regulatory costs behind it.

Many business – especially smaller ones – don’t have Human Resource departments to review, understand and implement 400 pages of costs and regulations.

They can’t afford it. The HR department for small business is usually Mom and Dad.

If the new wage costs and regulations don’t sink small business they may be forced to reduce staff to fund the increases, making the wage increases counterproductive.

In other circumstances, hiring new staff will be done very cautiously and more automation will be carefully weighed.

I would remind the committee that the Ontario government came to an agreement with all of us in 2013/2014 to raise the minimum wage incrementally and predictably.

We had months of consultation, government led panels and other input opportunities that some of you sitting on this panel may have participated.

That agreement, that inclusive process, for whatever reason used in 2013 has been tossed aside.

Since then, business has been hammered with all the new costs and a new U.S. approach to trade.

Notwithstanding all of that, the WERCC is in the ideas and solutions business, so here are some suggestions to change Bill 148:

•Do a 5 year phase in for min wage to help small business and agriculture like they are doing in California.
•Cost offsets to even the playing field. We want investment and jobs in Windsor-Essex, not Ohio. We have sent enough jobs and investment to USA.
•Tighten the rules on emergency leave days. For example, under the proposed legislation, for a large employer of 1000 people – the few that we have left – the cost of paying for 2 personal emergency days is 2000 days of wages per year. That’s the equivalent of 7 full time jobs. We would suggest going to 5 days without documentation or 7 days no pay with documentation.
•Clarity in the Bill as to what a “power outage” means with respect to 48 hr scheduling. We have some companies in the auto sector that often experience brief power outages in seconds or minutes that require many hours to reset production. If it happens on a Thursday or Friday, they can’t re-schedule for Saturday due to the 48 hour requirement.
•For our agriculture sector, the certainty of exactly when a crop has be to harvested needs to be made very quickly and can’t wait for 48 hour notice. We would request that this requirement be waived for agriculture.

When public policy is not done collaboratively and rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline the result is often negative consequences.

We owe it to our region, our employers and employees to follow the same model the government of Ontario demonstrated a few years ago, slow down, consult, get evidence and get everyone participating.

To that end employers across Ontario are conducting an economic impact analysis and should have the report ready in August and we will have more to say at that time.

Not to be forgotten – and this is important – if we want to get wages up the best way to do that is to skill our people up.

The government should be focusing on getting Ontarians up the skills chain with jobs that are in demand – jobs that pay $20, $30 or more, per hour.

In Windsor-Essex alone, we are leaving $600 million of economic opportunity on the table as hundreds of well paying skilled jobs go unfilled.

Jobs without people, people without jobs.

We need to skill our people up. We all agree on that.

Together, let’s focus on getting our people into jobs that pay way more than minimum wage and drive our prosperity and our economy to new heights.

Together, let’s get it our labour market reforms done comprehensively – to maximize our potential.

It’s ours for the taking.

The WERCC challenges you to join us, our community partners to make this happen.