Student unions in Ontario join campaign for $14 minimum wage

Photo by <a href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/spike55151/>spike55151</a> CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

Photo by spike55151 CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

Anqi Shen
CUP Ontario Bureau Chief

HAMILTON (CUP) — Several student unions in Ontario have joined the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $14. Anti-poverty groups proposed the minimum wage hike in March this year as part of their ‘Fair Wages Now’ campaign.

Alastair Wood, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, said members voted unanimously in their August general meeting to support the cause. Leading up to Nov. 14, a designated day of action, students joined community groups in voicing their concerns to local politicians.

“The last time we had a minimum wage increase was in 2010. Since then, the cost of education and living has gone up significantly,” Wood said. “The $14 [was determined] through community consultation to bring full-time workers about 10 per cent over the poverty line.”

Guled Arale, vp external for the U of T’s Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU), has been working with community groups to advocate for a $14 minimum wage.

“We had a forum a few weeks ago with 200 to 250 people in Scarborough and it was really good to see that many people working on this issue – not all of them were students, but many were parents of students,” Arale said.

Arale said a minimum wage hike would help students earn a living wage, particularly those working in casual or part-time positions while in school.

“Every year, the cost of living goes up for students, but a lot of students who do work minimum wage don’t see their wages increase,” he said.

In a similar vein, Carleton University’s Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) recently supported the hike in a presentation to the Ontario government’s minimum wage advisory panel. The panel was formed in the summer and will advise the province on future minimum wage increases.

“A lot of graduate students work as a TA or RA and take other jobs on the side,” said Lauren Montgomery, vp external of the Carleton GSA. “If the minimum wage were to be $14, grad students could take on less part-time jobs and put more into their schoolwork and teaching.”

She also mentioned the mounting pressure graduate students face in terms of rising tuition, debt load and, in many cases, childcare costs.

Along with groups such as the Workers’ Action Centre, the CFS-Ontario has submitted recommendations to the province’s advisory panel.

“Just two decades ago, a student could work full-time at minimum wage over the summer at 35 hours a week for 9 weeks, and pay off a year’s worth of undergraduate tuition fees. Today, it would take at least 20 weeks at minimum wage…more weeks than are in the summer,” CFS-Ontario’s submission states.

According to Statistics Canada, 60 per cent of minimum wage workers are under 25 years old, and of those youth workers, 44 per cent aged 20 to 24 attend school.

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Student unions in Ontario join campaign for $14 minimum wage