Ontario’s 10-cent increase in minimum wage called ‘insult’ to workers

Ontario's 10-cent increase in minimum wage called 'insult' to workers-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, hiring signs decorate the windows of restaurants and stores across downtown Toronto. (Sam Nar/CBC)

The minimum wage in Ontario goes up by 10 cents an hour on Friday, an increase that critics are dismissing as so little that it’s basically meaningless.

Legislation from Premier Doug Ford’s government called the Making Ontario Open for Business Act sets the terms for the 10-cent increase. Under that bill, the minimum wage rises on Oct. 1 by the provincial rate of inflation during the previous calendar year.

The change ticks Ontario’s general minimum wage upward to $14.35 per hour. The minimum wage rates for students under 18, and for workers who serve alcohol and receive tips, are also going up by a dime, to $13.50 and $12.55 respectively.

Brady Hakker, who earns minimum wage in hs job stocking shelves at a grocery store in Windsor, is greeting the 10-cent pay hike with derision.

“I’m almost a little insulted, if I’m being honest,” said Hakker in an interview. “That’s not going to make any real difference for anyone, especially considering how prices have been going up over the last little while.”

Brady Hakker-Milenium Stadium-Ontario
Brady Hakker earns the minimum wage at a grocery store in Windsor, Ont. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

Hakker is paying his way through his studies to become a paralegal at St. Clair College. The size of the minimum wage increase has him particularly vexed at Ford.

“Considering his government spent a good solid chunk of this pandemic touting grocery store workers and other essential workers as absolute heroes, how dare he?” Hakker said.

CBC News asked Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton for his message to minimum wage workers about that 10-cent-an-hour increase. He did not address the pay hike directly, but talked about Ontario’s labour shortage.

“I don’t want to create an economy of minimum wage jobs. That’s why, for example, I’m encouraging people to go into the skilled trades,” McNaughton said at a news conference Monday.

“We need people to get the training for in-demand jobs that are going to pay more so they can provide for their families,” he said.

Ontario Minister of Labour-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Ontario Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton, centre, tours the Saulter Street Brewery in Toronto as part of a government announcement on workplace health and safety inspections. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called McNaughton’s response callous and said Ontario’s minimum wage should be at least $15 an hour.

The 10-cent increase  “almost feels like insult to injury,” said Horwath in an interview.  “It’s not going to make a difference for folks. It needs to be more in line with what the costs are, because of course costs are increasing.”

Horwath also took aim at the premier for the government’s minimum wage policies.

“Mr. Ford talks a lot about being for the little guy. But I guess not when it comes to paying a decent wage that you can build a life with,” Horwath said.

Shortly after winning the election in 2018, the Ford government froze the hourly minimum wage at $14, scrapping legislation that would have pushed it to $15 that fall. The freeze stayed in place until October 2020, when a 25 cents per hour increase took effect.

The sharpest increase in minimum wage in Ontario’s history came in late 2017 and early 2018, as the then-Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne boosted the rate by $2.40 an hour over a period of a few months .

The hike of 10 cents effective Friday is not a true wage increase in the view of Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers Action Centre, a Toronto-based labour advocacy organization.

“It’s basically an adjustment to deal with inflation,” said Ladd in an interview. “We have a minimum wage that is keeping people at poverty levels.”

The high costs of housing and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic mean many workers are doing multiple minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet, Ladd said.

Labour day parade 2018-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
The call for a $15 minimum wage was a key theme of the Labour Day parade in Toronto in 2018, the year the Doug Ford government was elected. (CBC)

“When the majority of the wages that you make go towards just covering the rent, then you are constantly juggling all of your other bills,” she said.

“Do you pay your hydro this month? Do you pay your telephone bill? Can you afford to get that item of clothing that your kid needs?”

According to the latest Statistics Canada estimate available, from the month of August, around 500,000 employees in Ontario are earning the minimum wage or less.

A 2017 report by the Ontario legislature’s Financial Accountability Office estimated there would have been 1.6 million workers in the province earning minimum wage if the rate had been pushed to $15 an hour in 2019.


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