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Tim Hortons heirs cut paid breaks and worker benefits after minimum wage hike, employees say

Tim Hortons heirs cut paid breaks and worker benefits after minimum wage hike, employees say

Employees at an Ontario Tim Hortons owned by the children of the chain's founders say they have been told to sign a document acknowledging they are losing paid breaks, paid benefits, and other incentives as a result of the province's minimum wage hike.

"I feel that we are getting the raw end of the stick," said one front line employee who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of losing their job. 

The franchise is located in Cobourg, Ont., about 115 kilometres east of Toronto. The owners are Ron Joyce Jr. and Jeri-Lynn Horton-Joyce, the son and daughter of the chain's co-founders, Ron Joyce and the late Tim Horton, respectively. Employees say they are married.

In the document, copies of which were obtained by CBC News, Ron Joyce Jr. Enterprises wrote:

"Breaks will no longer be paid. A 9 hour shift will be paid for 8 hours and 20 minutes."

"These changes are due to the increase of wages to $14.00 minimum wage on January 1, 2018, then $15.00 per hour on January 1, 2019, as well as the lack of assistance and financial help from our Head Office and from the Government."

The letter is signed "Sincerely, Jeri, Ron and Lisa."

Non-union employees in Ontario are covered by the Employment Standards Act. 

The act doesn't require employers to give employees coffee breaks or any other kind of break other than eating periods.

Meal breaks are unpaid unless the employee's employment contract requires payment.

"Organizations are finding ways to transition to a higher minimum wage. We are encouraging them to work together to share best practices and innovations," said a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Labour in an email to CBC News.

"The Ministry of Labour is dedicated to ensuring Ontario workers are protected and know their rights under the Employment Standards Act."

Besides losing paid breaks, the document states workers with more than five years of service will have to pay 50 per cent of the cost of benefits, and employees with between six months and five years service will have to pay 75 per cent.

An employee with more than five years service told CBC News that prior to this, their benefits were covered 100 per cent by the company.

"That was a big benefit for the people who work at Tim Hortons, because it's not a great paying job," said the employee, who said they were making $13 an hour prior to the minimum wage hike.

"The benefits are what kept me there. Now you are going to make me pay that.

"I don't understand why you can take it away. Sounds like you are penalizing your staff because the government is trying to help your staff," they said. 

Employees are also losing incentives for working on their birthday and for working six months without taking a sick day. 

"We did receive this letter. I have not signed it and I still have it," said another front line employee who also asked to remain anonymous.

"My shift has 15-year-olds, and I feel they should be taking the letter home to their parents to read before they sign anything," they said. 

Wage hike but worse off?

Another employee said that with unpaid breaks and having to pay 50 per cent of the cost of benefits, their biweekly paycheque will actually be $51 dollars lower than it was before the minimum wage hike. 

"I've worked for the company for a very long time, and I was very upset. I wasn't marching down the street asking for this pay raise. Now I'm worse off," they said.

James Pickersgill, a Cobourg resident whose friend's spouse works at one of the Cobourg locations, posted a picture of the document on his Facebook page. It was shared more than 600 times in less than 24 hours.

"Cobourg's a small place. Word of mouth goes mental. People are talking about it wildly," said Pickersgill.

He said some people are pointing to this situation as a reason why the minimum wage should not have gone up, because it forces small businesses into difficult decisions. But a far greater number of people are outraged, he said.   

No comment

"People are talking about boycotting their stores, and saying 'I'll go to another [Tim Hortons], but I won't go to that one,'" said Pickersgill.

Employees say the owners of the franchises are at their winter home in Florida. 

A woman answering the phone at the Tim Hortons location on Division Street in Cobourg, who said she was the manager, told CBC News she had no comment.

In an email to CBC News, Tim Hortons corporate media relations said:

"Almost all of our restaurants in Canada are independently owned and operated by small business Owners who are responsible for handling all employment matters, including all policies for benefits and wages, for their restaurants."

"Restaurant Owners are expected to comply with all applicable laws and regulations within their jurisdiction."