A Tim Hortons coffee shop is shown in Toronto. Tim Hortons’ Canadian headquarters has waded into a brewing controversy stemming from this week’s minimum wage hike in Ontario, calling the elimination of paid breaks and benefits for employees at certain locations “reckless.” (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Franchisees’ cuts to paid breaks and benefits is “reckless,” says Tim Hortons

TORONTO — Tim Hortons franchisees who planned to offset the Ontario government’s minimum wage hike by cutting paid breaks and forcing workers to cover a bigger share of their benefits faced criticism from a new source Friday: their own head office.

After days of public and government outrage stemming from policies introduced by Ron Joyce Jr. and Jeri Horton-Joyce, the children of the company’s billionaire co-founders, at their two Coburg, Ont., locations, the coffee chain’s Canadian headquarters called the franchisees’ actions “reckless” and “completely unacceptable.”

A statement from Tim Hortons released on Friday said the cuts “do not reflect the values of our brand, the views of our company or the views of the overwhelming majority of our dedicated and hardworking Restaurant Owners” and that staff “should never be used to further an agenda or be treated as just an ‘expense.’”

The company didn’t elaborate on what it would do to help franchisees as they transition to paying workers at least $14, up from the previous minimum wage of $11.60 an hour. It will rise again to $15 in 2019.

However, it said, “While our Restaurant Owners, like all small business owners, have found this sudden transition challenging, we are committed to helping them work through these changes.”

It and parent company Restaurant Brands International Inc. requested a mandatory conference call with all store owners on Friday afternoon, according to Great White North Franchisee Association, a group created last year to give voice to the concerns of some Tim Hortons franchisees.

A spokesperson for the association said she was not aware of what was discussed on the call.

Restaurant Brands Inc. did not immediately respond to requests for comment and Tim Hortons’ headquarters said, “we have nothing further to add.”

The call comes on the heels of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne lashing out on Thursday at the franchisees’ cuts.

Wynne called their actions “a clear act of bullying” and said if Joyce Jr. wants to challenge the Ontario government policy, he should come directly to her and not take it out on his workers.

Her sentiments were echoed by Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid on Friday, when he urged business owners to respect their low-income workers.

“The decision on minimum wage has been made,” he said. “This premier will speak for those whose voices have often not been heard. She will proceed with our efforts to ensure that all workers benefit from our thriving economy. She will not be swayed by business owners, some of whom are very wealthy, to back away from her passion of caring for those who are less fortunate.”

Asked if it was hypocritical for the government to take this position since the Liberals cut benefits to some civil servants in 2014 to save $1.2 billion over five years, Duguid said this is a different circumstance.

“As an employer the government has a responsibility to the taxpayers who pay the bills,” he said. “(And) to ensure that the wages we pay to our workers are fair both to taxpayers and to those workers. I think we’d be hard pressed when we compare what our workers make to make any kind of a case to suggest that they’re underpaid.”

However, Unifor, Canada’s largest public sector union that represents more than 315,000 workers, released a statement on Friday stressing that “we can’t continue to have an economy based on poverty-level wages for workers” and slamming cuts from the Tim Hortons franchisees as “a bully tactic by greedy business owners.”

It said it was alarmed by other chain restaurants that have reportedly been cutting benefits and even confiscating workers’ tips.

“At a time when CEOs are making record multi-million-dollar salaries, it is not too much to ask that workers be able to afford a decent standard of living – and that begins with raising the minimum hourly wage,” Unifor’s national president Jerry Dias said. “This week has really shown why workers need a stronger voice in the workplace.”

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