Businesses cry foul, but higher wage adds money to local economy, says unionist

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Raising the minimum wage in Ontario will help boost those in need out of poverty, say social justice advocates in London.

Raising the minimum wage in Ontario to $14 an hour in January and $15 in 2018, won’t just mean more cash for high school students working that part-time job, but working poor can live a little better, said Sister Sue Wilson, director of the social justice office for the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“It’s an important policy that will lessen the gap between working poor and others. Teenagers are a small part of minimum wage workers. Older workers working part-time, make up a huge section,” Wilson said.

An Ontario government committee will hold a meeting in London Monday, receiving input on raising the minimum wage. Businesses and labour organizations will be making presentations.

Recent research states women and immigrants will stand to benefit the most, with 27 per cent of women and 19 per cent of men receiving a raise. Teenage workers make up only 18 per cent of those that will gain.

“For me it comes down to the dignity of every human person when we have a minimum wage that does not allow people to become socially and economically excluded. It is a way of allowing people to participate in the society we have,” said Wilson.

The restaurant industry is watching the issue closely, as boosting minimum wage will hit that service industry hard.

At Joe Kools, Toboggan and Fellini Koolini, hours are being cut and prices will rise, said Ron Scarfone, manager of Kools. In fact, it has to adjust overhead by the equivalent of cutting 200 hours a week to keep pace.

The eateries have already adjusted, opening later and closing earlier.

“We will see employee hours change and price adjustments on food and liquor,” said Scarfone. “It is hard to tell what the impact will be until it gets going, but increases will happen everywhere.”

While Kools does not plan layoffs, it may not replace those who leave, meaning there may be fewer jobs as a result, he added.

“I don’t disagree with making a better wage, but it is happening too fast,” said Scarfone.

Wait staff who earn tips, will see minimum wage increase to $12.20 in 2018 and $13 an hour in January 2019.

It will also mean other staff will need a wage hike, as cooks earning $15 an hour now will expect a bump to $17-$18 an hour. Entrees could rise from $14 to $16, he added.

But organized labour is tired of hearing business cry foul, as studies have shown minimum wage increases mean more money spent in the economy, said Jim Reid, president Local 27, Unifor.

“There is a lot of doom and gloom,” said Reid. “Nothing is further from the truth. There will be more money in the local economy.” 

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