By Stephen Laskowski
Within minutes of his election Premier Doug Ford declared Ontario is open for business. The provincial government’s announced review of Bill 148 is definitely a step in the right direction. The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), with its hundreds of members spread across the province, is looking forward to a new lens applied to the policies contained in Bill 148.
While Bill 148 deals with a number of important workplace issues that impact competitiveness, lets deal with the elephant in the room— a twenty three percent increase in the minimum wage over two years. While the vast majority of the trucking industry’s workforce is made up of truck drivers, who are paid well above minimum wage, trucking is a demand-derived business, and when our customers suffer, we do as well as an industry. The trucking industry, and its thousands of workers, needs a healthy economy to thrive.
OTA understands a healthy economy must be supported by a workforce that is paid a fair living wage and, over time, minimum wage should increase. The question, then, is how should wide-scale wage increases be implemented province-wide? Between 2010-2017, the minimum wage rate increased in Ontario by 10 per cent, with periods as long as four years without any adjustments. Regardless, all businesses have to plan for wage increases to be fair to their employees. The question is how can the Ontario government help employees and employers better plan for such minimum wage increases? As Ontarians review Bill 148, we should examine the suitability of deploying the same strategy utilized by several U.S. states by creating a minimum wage index tied to inflation.
Another complimentary US state policy option to examine is linking future minimum wage increases to sectors and regions based on industry impacts and local cost-of-living realties. The cost of living in the GTA is much higher compared to other parts of Ontario. I don’t think anyone will argue that point. If, then, larger minimum wage increases are required in some regions due to the high cost of living and less so in others, the province could consider a more refined and nuanced policy approach to implementing future provincial minimum wage increases. New York State, for example, performed a detailed analysis by measuring needs and the impact of increasing minimum wage in various parts of its jurisdiction, and then developed a plan for different businesses and regions to adjust accordingly.
New York’s sector-based and regional approach seems to be a direction worth considering as it allowed the state to take varying positions depending on the economic realities facing different sectors and jurisdictions. Instead, Bill 148’s blanket, “one-size fits-all” approach to labour policy has unintended consequences for sectors that play a vital part supporting Ontario’s economy.
There is much more to Bill 148 than minimum wage increases. Bill 148’s treatment of scheduling as well as part-time and on-call employees also has a significant impact on the trucking sector. A sectorial-based examination of Bill 148 would help modernize Ontario labour rules for the benefit of hardworking Ontarians without inadvertently introducing significant burdens on businesses.
OTA welcomes an opportunity for a more comprehensive examination of Bill 148 from a sectorial and geographic perspective, which is reflective of the needs of all industries and communities that face their own distinct economic challenges. Everyone wants to make Ontario a better place for all Ontarians and the trucking industry is ready to do its part.