This New Year's, workers across Ontario celebrated the passing of Bill 148, which gave 1.7 million workers a pay raise on January 1. The victory was not a Christmas present from the Liberals, but a product of campaigning, agitating, fighting and striking to win $15 and Fairness by workers across the province. But it is clear that corporations, many business owners, and their representatives are out to destroy the gains that have been won.
Along with Ontario's minimum wage rise to $14 an hour, every worker gained access to 10 days of job-protected, emergency leave (including two paid days), and equal pay for equal work for full-time, part-time, casual and temporary agency workers; it will also be easier for many to join unions (especially cleaners, security guards, homecare and community service workers) and there will be better protection against contract flipping.
By January 2019, the minimum wage will rise to $15/hour and there will be huge improvements to scheduling that give on-call workers a guaranteed three hours of pay if their shift is cancelled or they are not called in. However, with the looming provincial election, these last two are not guaranteed and the current gains are already under attack.
The business community has come out against decent work and improvements to labour laws. Metro grocery stores have released statements saying that they are looking to automation, price increases, job cuts and getting rid of 24-hour grocery service because of Bill 148.
Loblaws has warned that it will cut jobs to cope with rising labour costs. Ottawa's Black Tomato restaurant claimed that it was forced to close its doors because of the minimum wage raise. A Collingwood daycare owner claims she was forced to close because she can't afford to pay her workers the new minimum wage. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses have claimed that recent minimum wage increases have been a disaster for small business.
These are cynical attempts to sow fear and confusion among workers and the general public about raising working standards. Metro and Loblaws had profits of $132.4 million and $201 million respectively, increases from the previous year. The Black Tomato restaurant has been for sale since 2016, long before the proposed legislation, and the Little People's Day Care in Collingwood has been up for sale more than three months before Bill 148 was even proposed. The OCC and CFIB are ignoring the many studies showing that recent minimum wage hikes have shown positive benefits to places like Seattle and New York.
And, of course, in the week since January 1, several Tim Horton's franchises have been in the news for being on the wrong side of wage justice, exposed for trying to penalize their workers because of the news law.
These business owners are waging class warfare against raising the standards for workers in Ontario. Whether they are small businesses using their last dying breath to curse raises for workers and better scheduling or huge corporations trying to keep their profit margins at the expense of the workers who produce all the wealth, battle lines are being drawn in this province -- and taking centre stage in the upcoming election.
That Ontario's Conservative Party and its leader Patrick Brown are promising to delay the $15 raise to 2022 rather than cancel it, shows that they realize its popularity and do not want to risk turning off voters. Nevertheless, the election of a Tory government in Ontario would put the $15 and Fairness victory in jeopardy. Brown revealed the Conservative's "People's Guarantee" election platform, which aims to capture the progressive mood in Ontario by promising childcare refunds, tax cuts to the lowest income earners, lower hydro prices, and increased funding for mental health services.
Recent polling suggests that the Tories did not receive the bump they had hoped for with their election platform announcement. It seems that voters are not so quick to trust the party that has suddenly become defenders of workers and public services after campaigning last election on cutting 100,000 jobs. On the other hand, the Liberals who have been plagued by corruption scandals have benefited from tying their future to Bill 148 and casting themselves as defenders of decent work conditions. The NDP, who have the most to gain by being vocal advocates of the fight for decent work in the province, have been reluctant to celebrate the bill's victory or embrace the $15 and Fairness campaign; emphasizing instead the opportunism of the Liberals and the supposed threats to small business. However, they do officially endorse the $15 minimum wage raise and have called for improvements to the legislation. The latest poll from Campaign Research has the Liberals polling at 35 per cent, the PCs at 34 per cent and the NDP at 22 per cent.
Fight for $15 and Fairness
The movement cannot tie its hopes to any particular party. Our most effective weapon in this class struggle will be our ability to organize and mobilize the millions in this province who want better pay, better scheduling, equality and fairness at work. A recent Angus Reid poll found that 60 per cent of people in Ontario support the $15 minimum wage -- twice the percentage that oppose it -- and support rises to two-thirds among women. Not surprisingly, the greatest opposition is from Tories voters and those with a household income of more than $100,000 a year (but even 51 per cent of people in this income bracket support the raise).
We know the Tories are out to destroy the gains we've made and the way to counter that is not by putting our hopes in the Liberals or even the NDP, but rather by demonstrating the power of the workers in Ontario. That means we need to use the changes to Ontario labour laws that make it easier to form unions to organize workers into unions and bargain $15 and Fairness into those contracts to defend our gains. We need to spread the word about all we've won and all there still is to win if we can stay organized to strike for decent work if necessary. We should be fighting to make our schools become $15 and Fairness campuses, where everyone has decent work. The $15 and Fairness campaign needs to continue to show its power in the streets and in the workplaces to defend what we've won and demand more.
Peter Hogarth is an activist with the West Toronto $15 and Fairness group and a member of the International Socialists. For more information visit, 15andfairness.org. This story first appeared in Socialist.ca.
Photo: $15 & Fairness/Twitter
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