By Emma Sandri
Students won’t be earning a $15 minimum wage anytime soon—and Ryerson University is a member of an organization they can thank for that.
The province announced on Oct. 23 that they would repeal portions of Bill 148 in response to campaigns from organizations like the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC).
The non-partisan organization lobbied the government on behalf of more than 60,000 members—including Ryerson, York University, the University of Guelph and the University of Toronto. During the 2015-16 school year, the OCC was also one of Ryerson’s funding partners.
“We are on the lowest level of membership,” said Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi. “This level of membership entitles the university to free registration to some of the events organized by the [OCC] and sometimes reduced ticket prices.
The Making Ontario Open for Business Act unveiled by the Doug Ford government will scrap these reforms. It will also freeze Ontario’s minimum wage at $14 for the next two years
“You can understand from the category membership with them that we are not actually permitted to participate on OCC committees or task forces or to shape any of their policy agenda,” Lachemi continued.
Bill 148—the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act—was passed in 2017 by the former Liberal government. It was the first big update to provincial labour law since the passing of the Employment Standards Act 17 years earlier.
Bill 148 increased the minimum wage to $14 per hour and would have increased it to $15. The legislation allotted all workers two paid sick days and 10 days leave for personal emergencies. It also created mandatory pay equity between part-time workers and full-time workers.
The Making Ontario Open for Business Act unveiled by the Doug Ford government will scrap these reforms. It will also freeze Ontario’s minimum wage at $14 for the next two years.
“I think what the Chamber of Commerce and some employers don’t like about Bill 148 is that it requires them to share more of the pie with their employees, which they would rather not do,” said Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Ryerson.
Siemiatycki called Bill 148 a “once-in-a-generation” labour law update to correct imbalances that characterize the workforce. “The range of things it was made to address included a very low minimum wage that had not, over an extended period of time, kept up with the standard of living,” he said.
Siemiatycki said the Ford government’s decision to repeal the bill will deteriorate the working conditions and well-being of workers and their families.
“It’s only a dollar but it [adds] up if you do more hours—40 hours per week, 40 bucks. And that will pay for what, your transportation for a good week or something”
“Lo and behold, a government who styles itself the ‘government for the people’ is now taking a hatchet at Bill 148…this is going to affect hundreds of thousands of people, especially young people and university students,” he added.
Siemiatycki, who teaches a course on labour law, said the repeal of the bill would be “disastrous”—particularly for vulnerable populations like immigrants and students.
Antas Rathore, a first-year business management student at Ryerson, works part-time as a lifeguard. Rathore makes a little more than minimum wage, but noted that most working students make minimum wage so the repeal of the bill will directly affect them.
“It’s only a dollar but it [adds] up if you do more hours—40 hours per week, 40 bucks. And that will pay for what, your transportation for a good week or something.”
Siemiatycki said the repeal of Bill 148 was in recognition of a shift of power in the workplace in favour of employers.
According to Siemiatycki, there has been a lot of fear-mongering by groups like the OCC and the Ford government surrounding the bill. They have emphasized the bill’s negative impacts on employers and the economy in particular, he added.
A report released by the federal Parliamentary Budget Office on Oct. 23 shows higher minimum wages in Alberta and Ontario have helped close the current income inequality gap in Canada.
Ontario’s employment rate has also continued to increase this year and is slightly higher than the 2017 rate.
A lecture on the fight for the $15 minimum wage was held during Social Justice Week at Ryerson, one day after Ford’s announcement.
Jared Ong, an organizer with the $15 and Fairness campaign, told a Ryerson audience that if a business can’t pay their workers a living wage, they should adapt to a different business model.