Whitby Chamber of Commerce ensures membership is ready for changes ahead

Karl Baldauf speaks as part of a panel at the Whitby Chamber of Commerce's Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Summit Part 2

With a continued dedication to keeping its members informed, the Whitby Chamber of Commerce (WCC) hosted Part 2 of the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act Summit: Are you ready? More than 50 local professionals came together over breakfast to ensure they are aware of the implications of this legislation and can begin building strategies to run their business within its confines.

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, which received Royal Ascent on November 27, aims to bring more fairness to Ontario workplaces and create more security and opportunity for workers and their families. It was created in response to the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review and was the first-ever independent review of both the Employment Standards Act, 2000 and Labour Relations Act, 1995.

Providing the WCC’s guests with valuable information was a dynamic panel of experts, including Karl Baldauf, Vice-President of Policy & Government Relations at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC); Corette Miller, Owner of new initiatives HR consulting inc.; and Ian Johncox and Stephanie Miner, lawyers from Mason Bennett Johncox.

Kick starting the discussion was Baldauf, who gave a brief overview of the act and then described how employers need to start by assessing the changes and financial impacts applicable to them. Once employers understand these implications, they can begin to strategize how to minimize the impact and offset increased costs, all while staying compliant and competitive.

“Over the first two years of Bill 148, businesses will have to absorb $23 billion in new costs, including $13 billion stemming from the minimum wage increase,” explained Baldauf. “This is quite a conservative estimate because it doesn’t include the individuals who are currently making $15 per hour and will be expecting to make more.”

With extensive advocacy work during the past year, urging the government to listen to the concerns of Ontario’s business owners, the OCC will continue to create conversation around cost savings options and encourage them to be implemented into the next federal budget. To help navigate the changes, the OCC has produced Steering Through Change, a handbook to help Ontario businesses.

“We will remain vigilant, but we rely on you for feedback and ideas,” said Baldauf. “It’s about building successful ecosystems for businesses and communities. That’s why it’s important for us to have this discussion today, to create opportunities despite the challenges that exist.”

However, with more than 170 changes to legislation through Bill 148, the implications of the raised minimum wage are just scratching the surface. Others include providing equal pay for part-time, temporary, casual and seasonal employees doing the same job as full-time employees; expanding personal emergency leave to 10 days for all employees; banning employers from requesting a doctor’s note; and a minimum of three weeks vacation time for employees working five or more years.

Ensuring employers are managing these changes in a lawful manner were panellists Johncox and Miner. They presented two major mitigation strategies, the first being a thorough record keeping process.

“It’s clear that small and medium sized businesses will be effected most drastically,” said Miner. “For easy reporting, it’s important to keep records of dates and times an employee was scheduled to work or be on call, any cancellations of a scheduled day of work, and any overtime and vacation pay.”

Furthermore, employers will need to review their pay structure to ensure their business model is affordable. Guests were reminded that the equal pay provision is subject to some exceptions, including systems based on seniority, merit or that measure earnings by quantity or quality of production. These systems need to be in writing as an employee has the right to inquire about them.

Rounding off the panel was Miller, who brought the human resources perspective to the table. She explained that employee turnover costs an average of $40,000, highlighting the importance of ensuring employees are happy on both structural and cultural levels.

“Lets look at the positive opportunities that come with this legislation,” said Miller. “Start with your structure. Do you really need 25 part-time employees or is it really 10 full-time employees on salary? Embrace what makes your organization different and would make employees want to stay long term, in turn mitigating turn over costs.”

To support comments made by her fellow panellists, Miller suggested having a solid foundation of policies, employee contracts and record keeping systems.

This event was the follow up to a lunch hosted by the WCC in July, which welcomed Baldauf and a panel of business owners to dissect the proposed legislation and its potential impacts. The WCC also welcomed Julie Kwiecinski, Director of Provincial Affairs, Ontario, of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business to speak to membership in September. In addition to this series of events, the WCC engaged in advocacy and education through letter writing to both the Standing Committee of Finance and Economic Affairs and to the Premier of Ontario. The Chamber team will continue to keep members informed and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.