Premier Kathleen Wynne’s January announcement that Ontario’s minimum wage would rise from $10.25 to $11 on June 1, and thereafter be fixed to inflation, has some farming groups worried about added expenses.
Representatives from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association appeared before the provincial finance committee to voice their concerns over the Fair Minimum Wage Act.
MPPs heard that a higher minimum wage would lead to fewer jobs for youth and seasonal workers. The profitability of Ontario farmers, who compete against jurisdictions with cheaper labour, would also take a hit.
The growers suggested that there be a separate minimum wage for farm workers, an idea Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett said merits further study.
“The horticulture sector is still struggling to absorb the last minimum wage increase to $10.25 an hour,” Barrett, who took part in the weeklong finance committee hearings, said in the Legislature.
“These organizations seem to have consensus,” he continued.
“They do lean towards linking the minimum wage to consumer price index, if we take into consideration the general health of business at that time, but they certainly did not want to see this $11 increase.”
Barrett gave the agriculture associations credit for coming to the table with an alternative proposal to address their concerns over rising wages.
“Competition for the food industry is global,” he said. “We need to level the playing field to support locally grown food.”
The modest profit margins for farmers make this issue particularly relevant to Norfolk, Barrett told Norfolk News.
“In many cases, and for our fruits and vegetables in particular, we’re competing with other jurisdictions that have a lower minimum wage (and) lower wages,” he said.
“A 75-cent jump is very tough for our fruit and vegetable growers, our greenhouse growers – those that require a large number of people to bring in the product at the right time.”
The minimum wage hike would not affect the seasonal workers program, which Barrett called “a godsend for farmers” because it provides a reliable supply of committed, affordable labourers.
Barrett pointed out that there are already exemptions to the minimum wage law for hunting and fishing guides and in the hospitality industry, and suggested that agriculture be added to that list.
However, he allowed that servers and bartenders can earn tips to supplement their income, and compensation in the form of room and board for farm workers isn’t as common as it once was.
The potential for a separate minimum wage for farm workers will again be discussed in committee as part of the debate over the Fair Minimum Wage Act.