This Labour Day weekend marks eight months since Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, came into effect. Bill 148 increased the minimum wage from $11.60 to $14.00 an hour, gave all workers access to ten job-protected personal emergency leave days (the first two of which are paid), legislated equal pay for equal work for all workers, and ushered in a host of other changes to both the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act.
Taken together, these changes amount to the most significant transformation of Ontario labour law in a generation.
The Act was not without opposition. The business lobby warned Ontarians that its passage would cause massive job losses, shutter small businesses and hurt Ontario’s economy. The numbers thus far show that those predictions have failed to materialize.
Business claims about Bill 148
In August 2017, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce commissioned a study by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA) that warned that 185,000 jobs would be at risk in Ontario over the next two years as a result of Bill 148. People would either lose their jobs or fewer jobs would be created. Youth employment would decrease by 3%. Wages, hours, jobs and prices would all suffer. As Paul Smetanin, President of CANCEA, stated, “given the significant, sudden and sizable changes it would be remiss to expect that unintended consequences would not follow.” The risks of Bill 148, the report concluded, far outweighed the rewards.
Then last September, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario released a report stating that a minimum wage hike would “result in a loss of approximately 50,000 jobs (0.7 per cent of total employment), with job losses concentrated among teens and young adults.” The FAO’s study claimed these losses would result from a dip in future hiring – that is, 50,000 fewer jobs would be created in the future.
A few weeks later, TD Bank released a study predicting 90,000 jobs would be lost in future job growth. The study predicted “a net reduction in jobs of around 80-90k positions by the end of the decade and a 0.3% increase in Ontario’s Consumer Price Index (relative to business-as-usual levels). The estimated job impacts would still leave employment expanding over the next few years, but at a tepid clip of around 0.5% annually.”
At about the same time, the Fraser Institute released a report arguing that an increased minimum wage would disproportionately hurt young workers. They predicted “adverse employment effects for young and unskilled workers who, without commensurate improvements in their productivity, will be increasingly priced out of employment opportunities.”
Bill 148 became law on January 1, 2018, including the $14 minimum wage. Many employers, most notably Tim Hortons franchise owners, retaliated against workers by cutting shifts, hours, breaks, uniform allowance and even jobs.
While the public and labour responded strongly to these attacks with numerous protests, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce was quick to line up behind business owners who were attacking workers and to declare Bill 148 unworkable: “Now we are seeing these consequences come to fruition as businesses take extra-ordinary actions. The implementation was too much too fast. It is clear that the Government of Ontario must take further action to mitigate the unintended consequences of Bill 148.”
The economic reality of Bill 148
So what are the impacts of Bill 148 thus far?
Contrary to predictions, over the last 12 months, Ontario has added over 182,000 jobs, accounting for some 74% of all job growth in the country during that same period. Since February, a month after the minimum wage increased by over 20%, more than 130,000 jobs have been added. The unemployment rate has hit an 18-year low.
Now that Bill 148 is in effect, the exact opposite of what the big business lobby claimed is happening. Dire predictions that have failed to materialize about the impacts of increasing the minimum wage are nothing new in Ontario’s history.
The job numbers from February onwards have been positive, with over 71,000 jobs added in Ontario between February and June. The unemployment rate has also remained low.
The July job numbers continued this trend. In July, 61,000 jobs were added, although most were part-time. But wage growth has remained strong. Workers continued to gain in both average hourly wages and total number of hours worked.
Unemployment is at its lowest point since 2000. And youth unemployment in Ontario has actually remained at almost the same level since July of last year – meaning the 20% hike in the minimum wage has so far only impacted young workers by putting more money in their pockets.
Over the last 12 months, sectors of the economy with more low-wage workers have actually grown faster than the average. This includes sectors like information, culture and recreation, and accommodation and food services, which have seen job growth more than double Ontario’s 2.6% average for the last year.
Even in sectors where job growth declined over the past 12 months, such as in the wholesale and retail trade, losses in Ontario were much less than those in the same sectors in the rest of the country. And those sectors have, in July, seen rebounds, with real growth in jobs.
Overall, job creation in Ontario is outperforming provinces that have a far lower minimum wage.
Business lobby predictions busted
Bill 148 has not led to job loss, job growth deceleration, or negative impacts on young workers. Predictions of massive job losses have, for now at least, turned out to be way off the mark.
In fact, the evidence shows that the opposite has been happening. Jobs are being created, hours of work are climbing, and wage growth is robust. The numbers show that job growth in Ontario is better than it has been in almost two decades. With roughly 80,000 new jobs created so far this year, Ontario has already shattered the baseline job growth expectations of CANCEA and others.
Last summer, then vice-president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Karl Baldauf, said, “if the Ontario government chooses to proceed with these sweeping reforms so quickly, all of us will be affected, and the most vulnerable in our society chief among them.”
Baldauf was right – just not in the ways he thought. Low-wage workers and, indeed, most Ontarians have been positively affected by Bill 148’s sweeping changes.
David Bush is the Workers’ Rights Organizer at the Income Security Advocacy Centre.
This blog is the second in what we hope will be an ongoing series covering issues related to our work. See our first here.