Ontario’s Labour minister slammed Tim Hortons franchisees in Cobourg for cutting their employees’ benefits and perks in the wake of the minimum wage hike and invoked class-war rhetoric to explain why they were singled out by Premier Wynne, but conceded what they’re doing is entirely legal.

Earlier this week, a letter sent to employees of two Tim Hortons franchises by owners Jeri Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr. indicated they would be raising employee benefits premiums and cutting paid break time in order to afford the minimum wage increasing to $14 per hour on Jan.1.

Yesterday, Premier Wynne, called the moves a “clear act of bullying workers.”

She also criticized Ron Joyce Jr. saying his father sold the fast food chain “for billions of dollars” and suggesting he could afford any increases in pay to his workers.

But speaking to CP24 on Friday, Labour minister Kevin Flynn said the Horton and Joyce’s move does not violate the Employment Standards Act.

“Instead of coming to the government and making that statement or going to their corporate head office and making that statement, they appear to be taking it out on the hides of their employees and that is simply wrong,” Flynn said.

He defended the rapid implementation of the wage increases by taking a shot at tax avoidance by the ultra-wealthy.

“When people are earning in the lower incomes levels, when they get that paycheque, they spend that paycheque almost immediately. It goes right back into the economy, right back to the grocery stores, the clothing stores, the Tim Hortons of the world,” Flynn said. “It’s not going into trust accounts, it’s not going to the Cayman Islands or something like that, it’s staying right here in Main Street, Ontario.”

Defending the franchisees, the Great White North Franchisee Association issued a statement criticizing Wynne, adding that she has mischaracterized the wealth of Joyce Jr. and his spouse.

“Ron Joyce Jr. has never been an owner in the chain, other than his franchised stores in Cobourg, Ontario, and has, therefore, never been a recipient of billions of dollars as intimated by the Premier. We are offended that she has mischaracterized Jeri Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr. in this way.”

The group also criticized Tim Hortons Inc. for not allowing franchisees to increase prices or make any other adjustments to control costs, and slammed Wynne’s government for singling out Joyce Jr. and Horton-Joyce.

“Jeri Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr. have not chosen to pick a fight with anyone, but have rather chosen to make a business decision based on the fiscal realities that have been thrust upon them by the Premier and her Government."

A spokesperson with the franchisee group said an average Tim Hortons franchise owner with the equivalent of 35 full-time employees could be facing $243,900 in additional wage costs in one year due to the minimum wage hike, when increases to CPP, EI, employer health tax, vacation pay and training are factored in.

Flynn responded that anyone upset by the minimum wage hike should give him or Wynne a call.

“I’d be happy to sit down with them. But leave those hardworking people in the store alone, pay them their due.”

Seeing the continue coverage in the media, Tim Hortons’ parent company, Restaurant Brands International, issued a statement Friday calling the franchisees who have cut employee benefits only a few of those who operate in Ontario.

They said the Great White North Franchisee Association is a “rogue group” that doesn’t “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.”

“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. However, Tim Hortons Team Members should never be used to further an agenda or be treated as just an ‘expense.’ This is completely unacceptable.”