Tim Hortons ignites controversy following the passage of Bill 148

Brock Schmon Tower Tim Hortons / Samantha Daniels

Tim Hortons, one of the most beloved of Canadian corporations, has ignited controversy as many chains have moved to cut employee breaks and hours following the passage of Bill 148. Employees at various locations across Ontario have made statements to media revealing how owners of franchises have begun punishing employees at the restaurants following the implementation of the now $14 minimum wage and other labour reforms. One of the stores that has drawn the most media attention has been the Tim Hortons in Cobourg, ON., which is owned by Jeri Lynn Horton-Joyce, daughter of the late Tim Horton.

At the Cobourg location, workers were given a letter they were mandated to sign which stated due to the passage of Bill 148, employees would have to have their paid breaks eliminated and pay costs for their benefits. The move has elicited calls for a boycott on social media, sparking the hashtag #ByeTimHortons, and has drawn sharp criticism from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Tim Hortons locations in Scarborough have also banned employees from accepting tips from customers, instead mandating all tips must go to the restaurant. But Tim Hortons is not the only corporation to have responded to the wage increase by punishing workers. Servers at Sunset Grill locations across Ontario have released internal documents to the media showing the corporate has increased tip-out percentages from serving staff, meaning less take home pay for workers.

As of January 1, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act has come into effect under provincial law. The most noteworthy change included in the new law is the increase of the minimum wage for workers in the province. The minimum wage now stands at $14 an hour, and will increase to $15 a year from now, followed by increases every October to match inflation.

According to data compiled in a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, of the workers who earn minimum wage in Ontario, 57.6 percent of them were age 25 or younger. This means the majority of workers who will benefit from the wage bump are young workers, likely studying at a post-secondary institution. The report, titled “A Higher Standard: The case for holding low-wage employers in Ontario to a higher standard”, was authored by Sheila Block and draws on the government’s consultation process that was taken up before the passage of Bill 148.

One of the main focuses of the report is how 66 per cent of workers who earn the minimum wage are over the age of 20. As the report states, “There is the myth that minimum wage earners are teenagers who are working for the latest smartphone.” Oftentimes, young workers fall victim to stereotypes that they do not incur real expenses and therefore do not require a living wage for their labour. But students know this is not the reality.

Another major change will be a new mandatory requirement for employers to pay casual, part-time, and temporary employees the same as full ones. As The Brock Press has reported upon before, research conducted by Brock’s own Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) has shown that two out of every five youth work in the service sector, meaning jobs in restaurants, resorts, retail stores, and accommodations. These are sectors of work that tend to be precarious, meaning work that is casual, low-paid, contract, and with little to no benefits. The fact that employers can no longer discriminate in terms of pay against precarious employees means students will be better protected on the job.

Another big change is the new rules for employee scheduling. Many student workers are forced to find employment in jobs with irregular hours in order to balance their time in class or studying. This means many students work in jobs with hours in the evenings or weekends, and these types of jobs are often found in restaurants and retail stores. These employers can oftentimes change the employees regular work hours. Also, employers can change the amount of hours students receive, so on certain weeks students are not getting enough hours to pay their bills, and other weeks students are working so much that they cannot properly focus on school.

Changes to the existing labour law in the new legislation will alter the guidelines for how scheduling functions in Ontario. Beginning earlier this month, workers can request scheduling changes (like days off, for example) once they have been employed at a particular workplace for more than three months, without fear of repercussion from their employer.

Other issues affecting scheduling include on-call and cancelled shifts. Workers are still expected to be available on-call for their work, but they must be paid for at least three hours’ work if they are not called in or work less than three hours. Also, for most employees, if a shift is cancelled without at least 48 hours’ worth of notice, workers must be paid for a minimum of three hours’ work. Again, as students are disproportionately represented in sectors such as service work where on-call shifts are common, these changes will be a plus to student workers.

The long-term effects of Bill 148 will be seen in upcoming years. Paul Gray, a professor at Brock University in the Political Science Department, spoke to how the impact of Bill 148 will affect young workers and the political implications of the bill.

“When I was an undergraduate student, I worked 4-5 days a week in a dangerous job making minimum wage. Many of my students are in a similar situation today,” Professor Gray noted. “Over the last 40 years, wages have stagnated or declined while productivity has increased. Bill 148, which raises the minimum wage and improves precarious working conditions, will benefit many students and Ontario in general.”

“Nevertheless, we should remember two things. First, it took a lot of campaigning by workers to win this legislation, however cynical the Liberals’ motives in adopting it. Second, this campaigning will need to continue, regardless of who wins the upcoming provincial election, in order to protect the gains already made, to ensure that they are properly enforced, and to expand these benefits to those workers who are excluded, such as the many temporary foreign workers in the Niagara Region.”

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