Ontario minimum wage hike 'devastating' to horticulture producers

In May, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that the province would see three hikes in general minimum wage over 18 months.

The first increase happens this week, as wages move from $11.25/hour to $11.40/hour. Subsequent hikes will occur on January 1 of 2018 and 2019, seeing moves to an even $14.00/hour and $15.00/hour, respectively.

The provincial government is categorizing the increase in wages as part of a plan for “Fair Workplaces and Better Jobs”. But Ken Forth has one word to describe the hikes.

“Devastating.”

Forth is the chair of the Labour Section of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. He’s been involved in discussions around the increase since its announcement, and has heard from growers who believe the change will decrease the profit margins on some crops so much that they simply shouldn’t be grown anymore.

During the summer, Forth spoke to a legislative committee, challenging them to imagine a financial problem.

“‘What if you gave the public service a 32% increase in their wages over 18 months, how would you manage the Ontario budget?’ They didn’t have an answer for that,” he says. “And I said, that’s exactly, exactly, the position you’ve but the Ontario farmers in.”

Forth believes the industry needs to be part of the solution. He thinks a longer transition, and government support would be helpful, but he’s not optimistic either will happen.

The Ontario horticulture sector is also having to keep an eye on North American Free Trade Agreement discussions, as competing with low wage sites in Mexico is a worry.

“In Mexico, they’re paying $6 for 12 hours,” says Forth. “Not $6 an hour, $6 for 12 hours.”

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