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Business owners are being urged by the provincial chamber of commerce to make their concerns regarding proposed changes to workplace legislation and minimum wage increases loud and clear.

Karl Baldauf, vice-president, policy and government relations with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), says it is imperative that business owners reach out to their local provincial representatives, regardless of what party they represent.

“We want you to take the time to send those letters,” Baldauf said. “If the Premier sees a groundswell of opposition, [she] cannot [ignore it].

Baldauf spoke at recent roundtable hosted by the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce aimed at educating local business owners on the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.

Despite his advice to business owners, Baldauf admitted he is “very cynical that this [current] government will make changes.”

However, with an election guaranteed to take place within the next calendar year, he believes a future government could be convinced “to put the pause on some of the changes”, even if it is a re-elected Liberal government.

Baldauf says when the Liberals were re-elected with a minority in 2011, they scaled back numerous aspects of the Green Energy Act in response to public backlash, and he believes a similar situation could result from the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.

The Liberals plan to increase Ontario’s minimum wages to $15 by January 2019, an increase of approximately 32 per cent over 18 months.

“This scale of change is unprecedented,” Baldauf says.

Baldauf says while there are other jurisdictions with a $15 minimum wage, those increases were much more gradual.

California increased its minimum wage by 50 per cent over five years, while Seattle, Wash. had a 36 per cent increase over four years, Baldauf says.

In addition, Baldauf says these increases “totally contradict” changes made in 2014 on how minimum wage is calculated.

The OCC is partnering with a number of organizations to form the Keep Ontario Working Coalition, a collective group calling on the government to undertake an economic impact analysis of the proposed legislation.

The OCC has enlisted the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis to perform an economic impact study on its behalf.

“We expect to have the results by mid-August,” Baldauf said.

Should the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act move forward, the OCC is recommending a number of offsets to mitigate the impact on businesses.

Baldauf says the government should reinstate scheduled reductions to the business education tax as well as creating a province-wide standardized rate.

Another recommendation is to reinstate a previous decision to lower the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 10 per cent.

With US president Donald Trump indicating he will lower corporate tax rates south of the border, Baldauf says that “it’s very likely our corporate competitive tax rate will not be so in the future.”

The OCC is also calling for the Liberals to lower the small business deduction tax rate; established tax brackets for small businesses based on size; and cut the employer health tax rate from its current 1.95 per cent.

According to Baldauf, there are other aspects of the act that will cause hardships for business owners beyond increased wages.

Other proposals in the act include expanded personal emergency leave, including at least two paid days without the need for a doctor’s note; a minimum three weeks of vacation after five years with the same company, and equal pay for part-time, temporary, casual and seasonal workers performing the same duties as full-time employees.

Employers would also be required to pay employees for three hours of work if a shift is cancelled within 48 hours of the scheduled start time.

Baldauf says this particular aspect will be crippling to employers such as golf courses and ski resorts.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear some of their stories. It’s really adding insult to injury,” he says.

The act also aims to improve employment standards enforcement with plans to hire 175 more officers to enforce the changes.

Baldauf says the OCC supports enforcing employment standards but “good employers” will be pressured as well.

“If the challenge is ‘bad apple’ employers, why don’t you just crack down on them,” he said.

The provincial chamber is tackling the issue aggressively, with 25 similar roundtables planned in communities across Ontario over the next eight weeks.

Speaking on why the Liberals are proposing these changes, Baldauf says he doesn’t see any rationale other than providing help to people the government deems as vulnerable.

“The government sees an opportunity to convey some compassion and [to show] that they will hold businesses to account,” he said, adding he doesn’t expect either the NDP or Conservatives will take a lead role in rallying against the proposed changes.

“[NDP Leader] Andrea Horwath wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Star saying it doesn’t go far enough,” Baldauf said, adding “there is a need for the Tories to go further” but he does not believe their opposition “will ever go as far as the [OCC] or private sector.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

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