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Brian Jones: Unholy behaviour of big business exposed

Some Tim Hortons franchisees in Ontario are the subject of protests or boycotts because their employees' paid breaks and benefits have been cut.
Some Tim Hortons franchisees in Ontario are the subject of protests or boycotts because their employees' paid breaks and benefits have been cut. - Canadian Press

Decades ago, when I was an altar boy at Christ the King Chapel, I would have given my right arm to be as holy as St. Francis Xavier, but as an adult I’m just confused and flummoxed that seemingly rational people would want to see and worship the guy’s severed limb.

 

Brian Jones
Brian Jones

 

Look past the impressive technology, and in many ways our society hasn’t advanced much beyond the medieval.

 

Behaviour that is centuries out of date also helps explain the truly weird and wacky reaction of the business class to the increase in the minimum wage in Ontario, which took effect Jan. 1.

Workers who formerly earned $11.60 per hour must now be paid $14 per hour, and the howls emitted by some employers echo the cries of the nobility when serfs were freed or peasants could no longer be whipped.

The argument against raising the minimum wage, in Ontario and elsewhere, is that it will bring ruination to small feudal lords — excuse me, small businesses.

It is ironic and fitting that the fight in Ontario centres on the massive, all-Canadian icon, Tim Hortons. Protests and boycotts were organized after a number of Tim Hortons franchisees cut their employees’ paid breaks and benefits to “claw back” the expense of a higher minimum wage.

Thousands of people have commented on social media that it is an extremely poor business model to rely on sub-poverty-level wages to ensure profitability.

Which is true. It is also hyperbole. Tim Hortons and many other businesses don’t need a low minimum wage to be profitable. They will simply be more profitable with a low minimum wage.

That is an important difference, because while the business class tries to convince everyone that the minimum-wage issue is about economics, it’s really about greed.

We await a news story about Tim Hortons franchisees and other business owners opening their books for public examination to prove they are operating on the edge of profitability and a mere misstep away from bankruptcy. Double-double trouble could quickly be proven — or disproven — by such an action.

In the absence of factual numbers from wailing Tim Hortons franchisees, Canadians are left to look elsewhere for evidence. Ponder the long lineups at the morning drive-thru or after Saturday morning hockey, and estimate whether $96 per week will break the place.

It won’t happen, of course. Private businesses are not required to prove that what they are saying is actually true.

We are left to guesstimate. At $11.60 per hour, a worker makes $464 per 40-hour workweek, and $24,128 per year. At $14 per hour, a worker makes $560 per week, and $29,120 per year.

Ontario’s law gives minimum-wage earners a $96-per-week raise, and an annual raise of $4,992. They’re still below the poverty line, especially if they live within three light years of Toronto.

In the absence of factual numbers from wailing Tim Hortons franchisees, Canadians are left to look elsewhere for evidence. Ponder the long lineups at the morning drive-thru or after Saturday morning hockey, and estimate whether $96 per week will break the place.

The controversy about increases to the minimum wage — in Ontario and other provinces — highlights the need for tax reform. Not the American version, where the rich now pay less. Tax reform is needed to benefit the economy and the citizenry. That means, bluntly, higher taxes for the wealthy and the business class.

As the adage goes, you can’t legislate morality. Selfishness and greed will persist. That is exactly why a fair tax system is needed, to alleviate some of the damage it causes.

The fight over minimum wages is a precursor to a much bigger dilemma society will face within a decade or two. As automation and robotics throw millions of people out of work, some kind of guaranteed income will become necessary to avoid economic and societal collapse.

It will be ugly. Listen to the rage and dire warnings regarding a $96-per-week raise. Imagine how much worse it will get when discussion must turn to providing people with a guaranteed, livable income.

 

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

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