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Need for workers bigger issue than minimum wage increase: Newmarket-Aurora MPP

The province's decision to raise the minimum wage to $15 on Jan. 1 caught some employers by surprise, according to Aurora Chamber of Commerce
20211102 Minimum Wage KA
The province has announced an increase in the hourly minimum wage, to take effect Jan. 1.

The Ontario government has introduced legislation that would increase the province’s minimum wage from $14.35 to $15 effective Jan. 1.

It was an about-face from the current government, which cancelled a similar move by the previous government when they came to power in 2018, but while the move was welcomed by employees, the  decision caught some employers by surprise, according to the Aurora Chamber of Commerce.

“While the chamber understands the importance of an increase in the minimum wage, especially in looking at the cost of living in the GTA, we are concerned that we, like businesses, were  caught off-guard by the announcement (last) week and there has been minimal consultation with the business community,” said Sandra Ferri, president and CEO of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce. “For that reason, the chamber is going to be reaching out to our members to hear what they are saying so we can provide feedback on their behalf back to the  government.

“We’re coming out of this pandemic and we’re wondering about timing and whether it is the right time.”

From the province’s perspective, the timing is right – and this is due to the pandemic.

“Ontario’s workers have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic, as they’ve stocked shelves, kept our supply chain moving and helped so many of us enjoy a meal among family and friends at a local restaurant,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “When we asked  labour leaders what their priorities were, increasing the minimum wage was at the top of the list. As the cost of living continues to go up, our government is proud to be working for workers, putting more money into their pockets by increasing the minimum wage.”

Deputy Premier and Newmarket-Aurora MPP Christine Elliott said the issue of minimum wage had been “discussed for a number of years.”

“We believe it is the right time to bring it forward now because people are finding the cost of everything now – from food to  utilities – everything is becoming more expensive and we want to make  sure people can stay in their own community and find jobs. Many employers have already increased their wages to their staff and so we don’t expect this is going to provide a significant issue for employers. The bigger issue by far seems to be the need for workers generally.

“We want to support our workers and we know they need  an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, that costs are going  up for everything, but it seems appropriate at this point to increase  the minimum wage. We know employers everywhere are looking for workers,  that we have this mismatch of employers looking for people and young  people looking for jobs and perhaps not having some of the skills they  need in order to get those jobs, so we’re going to be investing over $90  million over the next three years in the skilled trades strategy to  make sure we have people trained to the kinds of work out there.

“I have heard from a number of employers in Newmarket and Aurora who are anxious to find young people who have those trades and they are willing to bear some of the training costs, in order to  continue their businesses at the same level and then be able to expand  them. This is a piece that speaks to the needs of both employers and workers.”

Brock Weir is a federally funded Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Auroran