Revamped Bill 148 should balance economy and wages

by Steve Laskowski

Within minutes of his election as Ontario 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, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: a 23% 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, so do we 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 widescale wage increases be implemented province-wide? Between 2010 and 2017, the minimum wage rate increased in Ontario by 10%, 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 complementary U.S. 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 Greater Toronto Area (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 labor 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 labor 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.

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