News Provincial

'Angry' premier, labour minister to crack down on businesses over labour law

By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

A Tim Hortons coffee shop is shown in Toronto on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima ORG XMIT: CPT127

A Tim Hortons coffee shop is shown in Toronto on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima ORG XMIT: CPT127

TORONTO -- Premier Kathleen Wynne and Labour Minister Kevin Flynn are riled up over businesses that thwart the “spirit” of new labour laws or worse.

A team of 175 new government inspectors is being added to Flynn's ministry to crack down on businesses, like the Scarborough Tim Hortons that allegedly asked workers to put their tips in the till to compensate for higher wages, Flynn said.

“Unfortunately, it appears that some employers are abandoning the spirit of this legislation, and some may even be doing more than that,” he said Monday. “The stories we've all heard over the past week have not only been disappointing but, quite frankly, they've made the premier, myself and others in this province angry.

“This bullying behaviour will not be tolerated,” he said.

Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski said the government was warned repeatedly by small businesses that they would have difficulty absorbing the 21% increase in compensation labour costs.

Employers are obliged to uphold the law but they may make decisions -- whether it's staff layoffs, reduced hours or cutting benefits – they feel are necessary to stay in business, he said.

“The Liberals want a bogeyman,” he said. “And they're picking on small business.”

Flynn acknowledged that consumer prices might be going up in response to the minimum wage increase, but said the government has an obligation to bring “fairness and decency” to the economy.

Yet even as he complained about non-compliance, Flynn admitted that a ministry employment standards hotline that was supposed to respond to employer questions about the new legislation was not able to meet demand.

Some workers who staffed the hotline were off sick over the new year, as the legislation took effect and the number of callers soared by 30%, he said.

A representative of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), whose members include small and medium-sized companies, took 14 tries to get through the busy signal last week, and an online education session arranged by the labour ministry has been scheduled for the end of January.

The CFIB has asked for a six-month grace period so that employers can be educated about the new rules before beefed-up fines kick in.

Flynn said the law requires all employers to comply with the minimum wage even if they've signed long-term contracts that didn't anticipate the rapid rise.

Almost 30% of Ontario workers make less than $15 an hour, he said.

“I'm an immigrant. I moved to this country as a kid because we moved from somewhere where things weren't so good,” said Flynn, who is from England. “We moved here for a reason. We didn't move here to make minimum wage.”

aartuso@postmedia.com