By Emerald Bensadoun
Ryerson University’s Career Centre plans on expanding the amount of Career Boost opportunities for students despite the minimum wage increase, but the unionized positions are still figuring it out.
The minimum wage increase, proposed by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in May 2017, will increase minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next 18 months as part of sweeping changes to Ontario labour laws. The increase is set to occur in January 2019, and according to the provincial government, the increase will also ensure equal pay for part-time workers.
The Career Boost program provides part-time and on-campus employment to full-time undergraduate Ryerson students whose educational costs aren’t covered by Canadian government student assistance programs like the Ontario Student Assistant Program (OSAP).
Career Centre director Caroline Konrad said the Career Boost program will expand “incrementally.” Career Boost opportunities for the fall and winter terms of the 2016-2017 year grew from 754 to 765 the following term, which is a 1.4 per cent increase. Projections for the 2017-2018 year will only jump 1.3 per cent. Career Boost is expanding, but at a decelerated rate.
In an interview, Career Centre operations manager Ian Ingles said that while the university has no current plans to promote or advertise its Career Boost job expansion, the increase in pay will be reflected in future job postings.
The University’s commitment to growing the program, Conrad said, is “happening, irrespective to changes outside.”
The funding for the Career Centre comes from a variety of sources, including sponsorship money, events hosted with employers and the provincial government. Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi told The Eye the University is trying to be more aggressive with the provincial government to obtain more funding. The amount allocated to the Career Centre changes each year.
But some Ryerson students aren’t convinced that the minimum wage increase will help solve all of their monetary woes.
To ensure that students working on campus through Career Boost don’t prioritize their jobs over study time, students are limited to working between 10 and 15 hours a week, and are only allowed to work one Career Boost job at a time. In order to be eligible to apply for the work experience program on campus, all students need to fill out a questionnaire about their personal and work-related expenses.
If a student is ineligible for OSAP, they won’t meet the qualifications to apply for the program’s opportunities.
Second-year journalism student Sara Jabakhanji lives with her parents in Mississauga. In an interview, she told The Eye that she’s trying to save money to move out. But between school, her job and regular expenses, it “doesn’t look like it’s going to happen” anytime soon.
Jabakhanji, who works on campus and makes $12.50 per hour as a journalism and multimedia assistant in the Venn, said her biggest concern is that even with the minimum wage increase, she’ll have to find a second job to move out and support herself. Since she’s only allowed to work 10 hours a week, Jabakhanji added the minimum wage increase “probably wouldn’t even help.”
Even unionized Ryerson workplaces like the Oakham Cafe and the Ram in the Rye run by the Ryerson Student Centre are also feeling the pressure of the minimum wage increase. The centre’s employees are unionized with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 596 Unit 2. Employee wages are negotiated annually as part of their collective agreement.
Carrie Fumerton, pub lead hand and acting floor manager at the Ram in the Rye, said staff are currently paid above minimum wage. While, to her knowledge, the centre won’t be making any big staff cuts to compensate for an increase in employee wages, she said nobody will “know for sure” until their collective agreement finishes its negotiations.
“There’s kind of a big cloud hanging over what’s actually going to happen with the minimum wage increase,” said Fumerton.
In an email, Ryerson Student Centre general manager Jennifer Stacey Staff wrote that she can’t comment on wages but “can however confirm that we will, at the very least, be meeting our legal requirements with regard to minimum wage.”
While the minimum wage increase has some students feeling a little uneasy, Lachemi said he is remaining positive.
“This place is about innovation, and we try to be creative and find a way,” he said.