Presentation by the GSA to the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel
Lauren Montgomery, Vice-President External
Phil Robinson, Executive Coordinator
Thank you for the opportunity to address the important issue of Ontario’s minimum wage. My name is Lauren Montgomery and I am here with Phil Robinson. We are here to represent the interests of the over 3600 members of the Graduate Students’ Association at Carleton University.
In addition to completing academic work for their Master’s or Doctorate degrees, many of our members are busy working several part time jobs serving coffee, staffing gas stations, cleaning toilets and performing administrative work at minimum wage. Many of these students are also accumulating debt in order to pay rising tuition fees and the basic cost of living.
Using Master’s students at Carleton as an example, roughly two-thirds receive some sort of funding or work as a teaching or research assistant. On average, these students earn $11,996 per year.1 Are paying tuition fees, these graduate students are left with less than $4,000 to cover rent, food, transportation, books, and other basic necessities. One third of Master’s students at Carleton receive no teaching or research assistantships nor funding packages, yet they must pay for tuition fees and the cost of living while also enrolling year-round in graduate studies.
In Ontario, students pay the highest tuition fees in the country. Graduate students pay on average $8,456 per year.2 International students pay at least twice this amount. Unlike most provinces, graduate students in Ontario must pay full tuition fees for the duration of their program. Canadian students relying on minimum wage incomes must work roughly 800 hours – 40% of the year full-time – just to cover the cost of tuition fees.
Research conducted by the Faculty of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Affairs at Carleton University has shown what most graduate students already know: financial constraints are the primary reason graduate students drop out or are unable to complete their degrees on time. Many students faced with increasing costs of living and Canada’s most expensive post-secondary education system are taking on huge amounts of debt to be able to pay for and complete their degrees.
Given the precarious financial circumstances faced by Ontarians seeking to improve their lives through post-secondary education, the Graduate Students’ Association enthusiastically supports the recommendations of the Ontario Component of the Canadian Federation of Students. These recommendations include:
- Immediately increasing the minimum wage to $14 per hour. Since the 2010 increase to the minimum wage, inflation has gone up by 7% and tuition fees have increased by as much as 24% for graduate students.
- Index the minimum wage to recent the cost of living. Currently Alberta, Nova Scotia and the Yukon Territories index their minimum wage annually to the cost of living. It is entirely reasonable to expect Ontario to do the same.3
- Pay equity for young workers. The deferential minimum wage for students under the age of 18 must be eliminated. A large number of undergraduate students are under the age of 18, and many high school students work hard to save money for their education. ere is no justification for a two-tiered minimum wage.
- End unpaid internships. Students are concerned that paid, entry-level positions are being turned into unpaid internships. As noted in the Federation’s submission, the unemployment rate for returning students in Ontario this past August was 19 per cent compared to the overall unemployment rate of 7%.4 Given the financial circumstances facing many students, there is a clear need for gainful employment opportunities.
Graduate students in Ontario face many obstacles to completing their degrees. Primary amongst these barriers are financial constraints such as high tuition fees and a minimum wage that does not reflect the cost of living in Ontario. These constraints are structural and are most detrimental to low income students relying on low-paid labour. By raising the minimum wage, Ontario will be taking one small step towards improving the prospects of students throughout the Province.
- Office of Institutional Research and Planning. Carleton University. 2013.
- Statistics Canada. “University Tuition Fees, 2013/2014.” Government of Canada. 2013.
- Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. “Submission to the Ontario Minimum Wage Advisory Panel.” 2013.