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Bill 148: too much, too soon, says chamber

Businesses talk impending workplace reforms
panel discussion
Karl Baldauf (right) of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce joined a panel with Geoff Jeffrey, a labour lawyer with Weaver Simmons LLP, and Tracy Nutt, owner of ServiceMaster Sudbury, that fielded questions from audience members on the impact of Bill 148. (Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce photo)

Businesses and employers are voicing their concerns that major changes coming to workplaces are happening too fast for them to cope.

But not everyone is convinced it’s going to have that big of an impact.

The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce held their Leadership Luncheon on Sept. 8 to discuss Bill 148: Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which is introducing sweeping changes including increasing minimum wage to $15 over 16 months.

Karl Baldauf, vice-president of policy and government relations for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, gave a presentation on a breakdown of the changes and what it meant for small and medium-sized businesses based on an economic analysis conducted by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA).

He said most businesses want to pay their employees better wages, but being forced to do it so quickly will have unintended consequences.

This act as it stands, according to the analysis, would cost businesses $23 billion, with wage increases making up about half the cost.

While it is estimated it will generate $11 billion in revenue from increased spending, he said that leaves a $12-billion hole to be filled in, as well as putting 185,000 jobs at risk and costing households an extra $1,300 in goods and services.

He said he’s already been told by employers the legislation will result in reduced hours, layoffs, more people pushed to retirement faster, and fewer student hirings.

In the end, he said this will actually hurt the very people it is supposed to help: students, those close to retirement, and ultimately consumers in the form of higher prices.

“This legislation is saying businesses are big and bad and need to be controlled,” said Baldauf.

During a panel discussion after the presentation, an audience member questioned the ethics of Baldauf’s use of statistics without proper context, stating the $23 billion only represented two per cent of the province’s economy, making it not a true risk analysis.

As well, while 185,000 jobs may be at risk of being lost, the member said it’s hard to predict exactly what growth will offset those losses.

Baldauf said while he couldn’t be sure $23 billion was around two per cent of the economy, he said he didn’t have any reason to believe the problem would be any bigger or smaller than what he has been told by credible economics experts that work frequently with the provincial government.

In the end, he said those are still people risking job loss and higher prices.

“I’m not claiming the sky is falling, but what I am claiming is we need evidence-based reform,” he said.

“The government refuses to do an economic analysis. We’ve done our analysis. I would certainly invite the government to bring evidence that they believe into the conversation because that’s the kind of conversation we need to be having.”

There were plenty of employers in the room sharing Baldauf’s concerns. Tracy Nutt, owner of ServiceMaster Sudbury, was on the post-presentation panel to provide a perspective as an employer.

She said she is very concerned about the speed and scale of the changes coming with Bill 148.

“There’s a lot of concern about minimum wage, but there’s a lot of other concerns that haven’t been getting as much media attention: personal emergency leave days, sick days, a card-based certification that isn’t in current industries,” she said.

“All of those come with tremendous costs.”

Nutt said she has spoken to many member businesses and many are greatly concerned about how these changes are going to cost them and how they are going to have to make up the shortfalls.

These changes, she said, will come back to bite consumers.

“We are all consumers in Ontario,” she said “Right now, I am looking at payroll costs to my company and I’m going to have to pass those increases along to my clients, and/or reducing the number of hours to remain profitable.

“If a business can’t be profitable, it can’t keep its doors open and it can’t create jobs.”

Baldauf said the message from the Ontario chamber has been threefold: slow down, amend, and provide significant offsets. “With those changes, we can be sure Bill 148 will be a positive and not a negative.”