Ontario’s new minimum wage could weigh heavy on agri-food industry

By Bernard Tobin, Real Agriculture

Ontario’s minimum wage is set to climb to $15 per hour by 2019 and that could have a significant impact on agriculture in the province.

Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie says labour intensive sectors such as horticulture and greenhouse operations will likely suffer the greatest impact from the Liberal government’s announcement this week that it intends to increase the minimum wage from the current $11.40 per hour rate.

Currie says it’s important to remember that for the most part “agriculture doesn’t get to set its price. Anytime there’s an increase in our costs there’s no way to recoup those costs.” What may be good politics for a Liberal government eager to appeal to left-leaning voters to maintain power may not be in the best interest of the agriculture and food sector.

On the positive side, it does appear agriculture will retain exemptions from the Employment Standards Act that allow for longer work periods during harvest and other labour needs that are unique to the agriculture industry. “We have our own Act that governs how employees are looked after in agriculture so that’s good news,” says Currie. He adds that the maintenance of ag exemptions is still not a done deal and the industry needs to continue to lobby to ensure they continue.

Currie believes it’s also important to look at the impact beyond the farmgate and how the wage increase will affect the entire agri-food industry. “A healthy value-added and processing sector and retail is vital to the success of agriculture as well,” he says.

In this interview, Currie says that while wage growth and inflation is to be expected, the big concern is the quick pace of the increase over the next 18 months. He notes that Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown has voiced concern that the wage increase will be too high, too fast. Currie agrees with Brown’s point that agriculture and other Ontario business sectors should be given more time to react and adapt to the wage increase.

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