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City looks for pass on new wage laws

City facing impacts of nearly $1 million in 2019 under new wage rules

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa is staring down a hefty price tag should new minimum wage laws come into affect over the next two years.

Under Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act the minimum wage will increase to $14 an hour at the start of 2018 and $15 an hour in 2019, along with a slew of other changes aimed at protecting workers and creating more equal pay among similar jobs and employees.

With that said, a City of Oshawa memo obtained by The Oshawa Express paints a picture of a city worried about the financial impact of the potential wage increase.

“It’s important to note that the drafted legislation will have a dramatic financial impact on the City of Oshawa and its citizens,” writes Stephanie Sinnott, the city’s treasurer and executive director of finance services. “The changes will create a significant tax burden to our citizens.”

Figures shared in the memo estimate that in 2018, due to the changes in minimum wage, holiday pay calculation, vacation pay and paid emergency leave under Bill 148, Oshawa could be looking at an additional $588,000, or nearly a half a per cent increase on the tax levy. The burden increases the following year when the estimated dollars needed jumps to $844,000. A large portion of this figure comes from the new on-call provisions, which could cost the city an additional $748,000 due to the need for on-call public safety service workers for snow and ice removal in the winter months. The additional $96,000 is due to the subsequent jump in minimum wage.

And while the memo was sent to all members of council, it notes that staff were also sending their comments to the province, one of which could have an impact on student positions at the city.

“One of the comments will be a request for an exemption for student positions for matching pay to full-time roles as well as paid emergency leave,” the memo reads. “The cost will significantly reduce the city’s ability to provide meaningful employment opportunities for members of our community who are a) attending secondary and post-secondary institutions and b) seeking to gain professional/work experience.”

The request did not sit well with Councillor Amy McQuaid-England who noted that with Oshawa’s high youth unemployment rate, the City of Oshawa should be looking at ways to attract more student and youth jobs instead of eliminating them. In May 2016, the youth unemployment rate for the Oshawa Census Metropolitan Area stood at 13.7 per cent, now, it sits around 15.5 per cent.

“I understand that it will cost the city money, but we should be choice employers and we should have already been paying our employees minimum wage,” she says. “If we had been paying our summer students and other employees more to begin with, we wouldn’t have been in this situation.”

For Mayor John Henry, he admits that the increases will come as a challenge for the city.

“I understand what they (the province) are trying to do, and I get that, it’s just going to be a large amount of money,” he says. “It’s like anything else the government does. They just come in and tell you what they’re doing.”

Due to the potential impacts, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has proposed a series of amendments to the province’s new rules, including an exemption for municipalities who are required to have on-call public safety services.

“Municipal governments provide most of the needs of daily life as well as emergency services to our communities. On the face of this proposed legislation, we are concerned that municipal employers will be disproportionally impacted given our large range of mandated services,” reads AMO’s submission to the province. “We are therefore concerned that in its effort to aim relief at a targeted segment of the labour market, this legislation will overshoot the mark and result in significant and unnecessarily costly unintended consequences.”

The bill passed second reading at Queen’s Park on Oct. 18 and is currently under consideration by the standing committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.