For the last number of weeks, the big business lobby and the government of Ontario have been loudly pointing to the August job numbers as proof that the $15 minimum wage and the other labour law reforms in Bill 148 have hurt workers and the economy. Ontario’s economy added 36,000 jobs in September, putting a pin in the doom and gloom narrative spun by the big business lobby.
Spinning the August job numbers
Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, stated soon after the August job numbers were released: “The Ontario business community has made it clear—Bill 148 has led to a substantial decrease in staff hours and capital investment as well as an increased reliance on automation. This dramatic decline in over 80,000 jobs reflects the work that must be done to build a prosperous and competitive province.”
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce repeated its previous call for the government to fully repeal Bill 148. It was joined by other business organizations like the temp agency lobby group ACSESS, the Retail Council of Canada and the Food and Beverage Ontario who also issued a statement urging the full repeal of the Bill.
These organizations all claimed that Bill 148 was not only hurting the economy, but that it was negatively impacting minimum wage workers.
Their concern for workers’ economic well being however, is couched with a sense of horror that workers might actually be using some of these new workplace rights to improve their conditions. As the Retail Council of Canada stated in a letter to Labour Minister Laurie Scott, “our members report a very close correlation between the number of paid PEL days available and the number being taken.” Imagine that, workers using paid sick days when they are sick.
Government following the lead of big business
The government is using the rhetoric of the Big Business lobby to attack Bill 148 and the $15 minimum wage. This week in the legislature, Doug Ford claimed “60,000 people lost their jobs under Bill 148” and that “Bill 148 is the worst bill for the front-line hard-working people this province has ever seen. It is worse than the carbon tax.”
Ford went on to reference the TD study which predicted that Bill 148 will result in 80,000 to 90,000 job losses. This report and the CANCEA study (commissioned by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce) which claimed 185,000 jobs would be lost in the first two years have thus far proved wildly off the mark. But this didn’t stop Ford from using this as a reason to state, “we’re getting rid of Bill 148.”
Jim Wilson, the Minister of Economic Development, even went so far as to directly quote the Chamber when asked a question about Bill 148 stating “Bill 148 should never have seen the light of day. If I quote the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in a news release this week, it says: “Bill 148 was too much, too fast,” and has “forced our members to decrease product offerings and increase the price of products … hire fewer employees, reduce services and hours of operation, cut back on employee benefits….””
The big business lobby has repeatedly twisted the facts on the job numbers to attack the minimum wage. Rossi for instance has claimed that Ontario has lost 90,000 jobs since Bill 148 and the $14 minimum wage came into effect. The reality is when Rocco made that statement Ontario had gained 52,000 since January. In September Ontario added another 36,000 jobs.
While there has been monthly fluctuations in the job numbers, the trend line has been overwhelmingly positive. Three of the last four months Ontario has added jobs. 103,000 full-time jobs have been added over the last 12 months. Year-over-year job growth in Ontario is at 1.2 per cent, which equals the national average. The total hours of work in Ontario during that same period grew by 1.47 per cent, which outpaced the 1.05 per cent growth in total hours of work in Canada. Unemployment in Ontario is at the national average, 5.9 per cent, and has barely ticked up from an 18 year low of 5.4 per cent in June. The participation rate meanwhile has held steady.
The trends that many missed or purposefully skipped over in the August job numbers were again showcased in this month’s labour force survey. Over the last 12 months employment in Ontario’s service sector grew by 1.3 per cent (which is nearly double the good producing sector which grew by 0.6 per cent over the same period). In fact, Ontario’s service sector employment grew at a slightly higher rate than the national average of 1.2 per cent over the last 12 months.
Growth in low-wage job sectors
In Ontario average hourly wages in the Food Service and Accommodation sector (the lowest wage sector of the economy) rose from $14.60 to $16.41 over the last 12 months (a 14 per cent increase). In Canada, the sector’s average hourly wages went from $15.03 to $16.08 (a 7 per cent increase). So Ontario’s average hourly wage growth in the sector doubled the national average over the last 12 months.
Meanwhile the total hours worked in the sector over the same period in Canada increased 2.7 per cent. In Ontario the total hours of work in the sector increased by 4.6 per cent. The average hours worked per week in the sector in Ontario went from 30.5 in September 2017 to 31.3 in September 2018 (a 1.9 per cent increase). Over the same period the average hours per week in Canada in the sector barely changed from 30.7 to 30.8 hours.
This means that while wage growth in the lowest wage sector in Ontario doubled the national average over the last 12 months, the total number of hours worked grew at nearly double the rate. This is the exact opposite of what the business lobby is claiming is happening. The trend line is showing that the $15 minimum wage, far from having an adverse impact on jobs and hours for workers in the low-wage sector, is benefitting workers.
The bosses lie
While Ontario’s economy is not exactly working for workers, the big business lobby claim that the $15 minimum wage and Bill 148 reforms have ruined the economy and hurt workers has little basis in reality. They are banking on a strategy of repeating this spurious claim and peppering it with sob stories from anonymous business owners supposedly negatively impacted by Bill 148. Looking at the job numbers the big business lobby and their political friends have little choice but to rely on lies, distortions, and unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence in their bid to roll back Bill 148, because as it stands the facts just don’t support their claims.