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workersIt looks like the Ontario Liberals have kicked a leg out of their own Workplace Reforms – equal pay for equal work. Changes to Bill 148 before second reading last week let temp agencies off the hook by permitting them to pay their workers less than what full time workers at a company would make, even though the temps are doing the same work.

Precarious work is a plague in Canada. The research is clear – it drives people into debt, into poor housing, into food banks and into the hospital. Temp agencies profit from our precarious economy by providing companies with cheap labour and limited responsibility for workers health and safety. If there's an accident, the temp agency handles it because the worker is technically an employee of the agency rather than the company. And accidents do happen because temp workers are not given adequate health and safety training before hitting the factory floor.

In Ontario, temporary work agencies have grown 20% (faster than just about any business) over the last decade and have spread all over the Province, including Owen Sound.

Other legs are still standing: time off for emergencies and vacations without losing your job; health (less precariousness equals better health); and a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour are still in Bill 148.

But the business lobby is after those too. We've all seen their dire warnings of lost jobs or jobs not created (they're a little vague on which it will be). Their studies are based on what they assume employers will do given the economic situation at the time. Trying to forecast the state of the economy at any given point in the future is like firing an arrow high into the air and predicting where it will land. And trying to predict what employers intend to do is a bit like trying to figure out what Aunt Mildred will have for Sunday supper a month from now, even if you know she has a fondness for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Here's something you should know: most of the research on the economic impact of increasing the minimum wage (and there's a lot of it) was done after jurisdictions made the change. And that research shows no significant impact on employment or on prices.

To say, as the Chamber of Commerce, and Owen Sound City Council, and our MPP Bill Walker do, that we need an economic analysis of the impact of Bill 148 before it's implemented is to ignore seven decades of research that's already available. It is also to delay, if not scupper, reforms that workers desperately need now.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (which predicts the direst consequences for Bill 148) hasn't done the research on what it would cost not to raise the minimum wage. Those costs, as the Bruce Grey Health Unit and the United Way have pointed out, are considerable: more people in poverty, more social and health problems – all of which must be picked up by the public.

The Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce, which parrots the Ontario Chamber's positions, isn't taking into account the $5.5 million that $15/hr will bring to the City's economy (or the $40 million it would bring to the region). They are also not giving their members much credit for finding innovative ways to keep the staff they have.

If one of those ways is to raise prices a bit to keep our neighbours working, I'm willing to pay the difference. And I'm going to tell Bill Walker that by emailing [email protected].

David McLaren






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