The August job numbers are out and on the face of it they look grim for the workers of Ontario. 80,000 jobs were lost in August. The headlines are ready-made for the Ford government to use as an excuse to freeze the minimum wage and rollback the labour law reforms in Bill 148.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has already come out with a press release calling this the biggest decline in employment in almost a decade. The OCC states: “Today’s news reflects what we have been hearing from our members for months—we need to build an economy that connects workers to jobs and this begins with the immediate repeal of Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017.”
The big business lobby has been gunning to repeal Bill 148 since it was introduced last year. The latest jobs numbers provide them with splashy headlines to do so. If you only listened to media headlines or the Chamber you would think Ontario was in the midst of a jobs crisis.
But if you actually look at the job numbers for Ontario a very different picture emerges. Unemployment remains at near record lows for the last 18 years, total hours of work are up, and so are wages.
What the numbers actually say
After two consecutive monthly increases, employment in Ontario fell by 80,000 in August. This comes after Ontario added 61,000 jobs in July. The July additions and the August job losses were almost entirely part-time jobs. On a year-over-year basis, employment increased by 79,000, or 1.1%, in Ontario.
The Ontario unemployment rate rose 0.3% points in August, to 5.7%. This is better than the national rate and better than every other province except Quebec and British Columbia. The participation rate in the labour market also dropped by 0.6% from July to August.
Part-time (PT) employment is down in August compared to a jump in July. Year-over-year PT employment is down 6.7% in Ontario. This reflects a broader trend nationally, with PT work dropping by 4.3% across Canada.
Full-time (FT) employment in Ontario remained steady compared to July. But year-over-year FT jobs have grown by 3%, which is better than the national average of a 2.2% increase over the same period.
Hours and wages of work
Looking at the total and average hours of work, rather than the monthly fluctuations of PT or FT jobs, is a more telling way to decipher employment trends. For instance PT jobs being lost at a greater rate than FT jobs are being gained can give the appearance that the job market is soft. But if the actual hours of work are increasing the reality is that the job market is stronger despite the number of jobs lost.
The average weekly hours worked nationally has remained steady over last 12 months from 36 hours in August of 2017 to 36.1 hours in August 2018.
Ontario over the last 12 months has seen its average weekly hours of work increase from 36.3 in August 2017 to 36.5 in August 2018. This is better than the national average. Despite the 80,000 PT jobs lost the total hours of work worked by all workers only decreased by 1.2% from July to August. Despite this monthly dip in total hours worked, the year-to-year growth is still 1%. What is even more interesting is that the total hours worked in Ontario grew even more since Bill 148 came in to effect, rising by 3.3% from January to August.
The average hourly wages in Canada have risen by 2.85% in the last year while the average hourly wage in Ontario increased by 3.8 % over that same period.
Wages and hours in the service sector
If Bill 148 with its increased minimum wage and strengthened workplace rights was indeed a job killer we would surely see the hours and wages of workers in the low-wage service sector plummet.
Instead, in Ontario, the service sector average weekly hours of work are up from 35.3 hours in August 2017 to 35.5 hours in August 2018.
The accommodation and food services sector, which has the greatest concentration of low-wage workers, experienced an increase in average hours of work from 30.7 hours in August of 2017 to 32.2 hours in August of 2018, a 4.9% increase. In wholesale and retail trade the average hours of work increased from 33.9 to 34.2 hours over the last year.
In the low-wage service sector average hourly wages have gone up over the last 12 months. In August 2017 average hourly wages in accommodation and food service were $14.74; in August 2018 they were $16.65 (a 13% increase).
Interestingly, in the accommodation and food service sector the average hours of work decreased from August 2017 through December 2017 by 3.9%. After the minimum wage was increased by 20% in January, the average hours of work rose by 13% from January through August, with wages growing by 10% during this same period.
If the Chamber of Commerce was right about the negative impacts of raising the minimum wage and having paid sick days for workers we would see rising unemployment, lower average hours and total hours of work in the low-wage sectors of the economy. In fact we see the exact opposite. Hours of work in the accommodation and food service sector have been growing faster after Bill 148 came into effect than before.
Resisting the big business line
Unemployment in Ontario remains low (lower than the national average) and near an 18 year low, and average hours of work and average wages are both up – especially in sectors most impacted by the minimum wage increase. Ontario’s economy is far from working for workers, but the passage of Bill 148 has had an overall positive impact on employment and wages for workers.
Ford and the big business lobby will weaponize the August job numbers to take aim at Bill 148 and the minimum wage increase. In this effort they will be helped along by the corporate media. But we should not cede any ground on the benefits of the minimum wage and labour law reform. There is absolutely no merit to the claim made by the anti-worker Chamber of Commerce that Bill 148 has hurt workers. Despite the headlines the numbers actually show the opposite is occurring. We will have to keep up the fight to cut through the big business spin and hold the line against Ford’s attack on Bill 148.