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Ontario Just Became The Second Province To Embrace A $15 Minimum Wage

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says the minimum wage will rise to $15 by Jan. 1, 2019.

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Ontario's government says it will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, a move being celebrated by labour groups and activists who have been calling for workplace reforms.

Premier of Ontario / YouTube / Via youtube.com

Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday that the minimum wage hike will be phased in, rising to $14 by Jan. 1, 2018, and $15 by the same date in 2019, followed by further annual increases to keep up with inflation. The general minimum wage in the province is currently $11.40.

Alberta's NDP government was the first Canadian jurisdiction to embrace a $15 minimum wage, with the province set to hit that goal by October 2018.

"Increasing the minimum wage will make a world of difference in millions of lives," she said.

Other labour reforms the government has proposed include:

* paying part-time, temporary, casual, and seasonal employees the same as full-time employees if they are doing the same job;

* at least three weeks of paid vacation time after five years with the same employer;

* heavier fines for employers who break labour laws;

* requiring employers to improve shift scheduling, and to pay employees for three hours of work if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours of its scheduled start time;

* making it easier for workers to unionize.

Labour and anti-poverty groups are welcoming the announcement. "We're really quite thrilled," said Deena Ladd, co-ordinator of the Workers' Action Centre.

.@Kathleen_Wynne says $15 min wage fully phased in within 18 months! #15andFairness! #onpoli

Ladd told BuzzFeed Canada that although a flat minimum wage for everyone would be better — students and liquor servers can be paid less than the general minimum wage in Ontario — the government's announcement was encouraging.

"By moving to $15 in such a short time, 18 months, it brings people above the poverty level," she said.

The Workers' Action Centre is part of the Fight For $15 and Fairness coalition in Ontario and represents non-unionized workers in part-time, contract, and temporary positions.

Activists have been pushing for a baseline $15 minimum wage and better workplace protections since 2012, when hundreds of fast food workers walked off the job in New York City.

Fight for $15 and Fairness / Facebook / Via Facebook: Fightfor15andFairness

Since then, the Fight For $15 movement has expanded across North America, winning commitments for higher wages in cities and states including Seattle, New York, and California.

One significant hurdle for Ontario's $15 minimum wage hike might be the next provincial election, scheduled for June of 2018. Kathleen Wynne's Liberal Party, which has announced a number of progressive policies in recent months, trails the Progressive Conservatives in recent opinion polls. But Ladd said reversing the minimum wage increase will be difficult for any government.

"People are just so fed up with not being able to make ends meet," she said. "I'm not too concerned about it reversing because it would be political suicide for anyone who decides to take this away."

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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