by Kristina Jarvis
Representatives from Ryerson University marched in this year’s Labour Day parade to protest the provincial minimum wage and the way it affects university students.“A lot of students are forced to work,” says Chris Drew, a fourth-year urban planning student. “They can’t keep up with the costs (of school).”
Drew, along with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executive and a few other students, joined members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to march in the Labour Day parade Aug. 5.
One of the goals of the parade, which was called “A thousand reasons to march,” was to raise awareness of the cost of living, compared to the provincial minimum wage.
Drew, a representative of the Faculty of Community Services, says it is important for students to get involved, since many of them are already members of the workforce.
According to Ram Sivapalan, RSU’s VP Finance and Services, a “living wage,” or a minimum wage that a person can successfully live on is $10 an hour. The provincial minimum wage is $7.45 an hour.
“We’re asking (the provincial government) to convert the minimum wage into a living wage, and have it go up with the rate of inflation,” says Sivapalan. “Anything less than $10 an hour is below the poverty line.”
Sivapalan and his fellow executives are asking the Canadian Federation of Students to adopt the Living Wage Now campaign, which, he says, “many universities in Ontario are now helping with.”
Originally started at Ryerson’s Working Students Centre, the campaign focuses on increasing the minimum wage so students can earn more while working and going to school.
But higher wages, argues Ryerson economics professor and student advisor Eric Kam, would not necessarily mean more money in students’ pockets, as prices of products would naturally rise.
At the start of the school year, RSU gave all of their part-time employees a 50 cent raise, as part of their commitment to help students with the high costs of living and school.
Joel Duff, Ontario organizer for the Canadian Federation Students says an increasing number of students have to divide their time between school and work.
“More students are workers, and they all will be workers when they graduate,” he says. He thinks the provincial government can do more to help students.
“We have to work to pressure the provincial government to bring (minimum wage) up to the poverty line,” he says. “While they are raising the minimum wage, the rate could be accelerated.”
Duff also says that working while going to school can affect a student’s ability to study. “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to work. But in reality, you have to in order to live.”
— With files from Maurice Cacho