By Kara Matthews
Student unions across Ontario are calling on the provincial government for an increase in the minimum wage.
“Raising the minimum wage and reducing tuition fees would help ensure no student is forced to decide between paying tuition fees and buying groceries,” said Alastair Woods, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. The CFS is one of multiple student, and human rights group fighting for a raise in the minimum wage.
Woods said 20 years ago, when the minimum wage was much lower, students could pay their entire tuition by working 35 hours a week for 9 weeks.
Woods told Humber News that it’s simply unrealistic now given the current high cost of living. Now tuition fees can barely be paid even after 20 weeks of work.
“Ontario students and youth are facing unprecedented levels of student debt and a bleak job market after graduation,” Woods said. “By increasing the minimum wage to $14 per hour, the government could immediately improve the lives of students and youth,”
Megan Tierney, 20, a third year Animation student at Humber College, said she works two jobs in the summer and one part-time job during the school year to pay her tuition. She also receives money from OSAP every semester.
“I work at Victoria’s Secret on weekends, and a few nights a week,” she said. “It gets stressful, but I can’t imagine not having an income during the school year. It’s a luxury I just can’t afford.
Tierney said she likes to remain optimistic about future job prospects, but knows she’ll need to continue working a minimum wage job to pay off student loans after graduation. She thinks a wage increase to $14 an hour would be highly beneficial, not only for students, but working mothers and fathers as well.
“I think it would be an obvious improvement to so many people’s lives,” Tierney said. “I do worry that the increase would just mean the cost of other essentials will increase with it.”
Woods said although the cost of living does continue to increase the jump from the current minimum wage of $10.50 an hour to $14 an hour would put minimum wage workers well above the poverty line.
“With $14 an hour as the average minimum, it would put most workers 10% above the poverty line,” he told Humber News. “The current wage typically leaves people 10-20% below it.”
According to Statistics Canada, youth under 25 make up for 60% of all minimum wage workers. Young adults aged 20-24 make up 18% of minimum wage workers, and 44% of them also attend school on a full-time or part-time basis.