On October 1, the Ontario government increased the provincial hourly minimum wage rate from $15.50 to $16.55. Ontario initially announced the increase in March, seven months before it went into effect, with the intention of giving employers enough time to make adjustments to accommodate the increased cost of paying employees. 

U of T students with work-study positions may have noticed their wages increase due to this change. The CLNx website notes that the university paid all students in work-study positions a minimum rate of $15.90 prior to October 1, which increased to a minimum of $16.55 afterward.

Should students be paid less?

The Ontario government also increased its “student minimum wage” from $14.60 to $15.60 an hour. This rate is lower than the general minimum wage rate requirement. Most U of T students do not have to worry about being paid less than the standard minimum, though, as this student rate applies to workers under the age of 18, who work 28 hours a week or less when school is in session, during school breaks, or over the summer holidays. 

Ontario is the only province to still have a student minimum wage in effect. The Ontario government first brought in student minimum wage to encourage employers to hire youth, who have less experience, by paying them lower wages. 

In 2013, then-CIBC Chair in Youth Employment Morley Gunderson told U of T News that some studies in Canada and the US have suggested that employment rates among youth workers may be the most susceptible to decreasing as minimum wage rates increase. In general, however, there is a lack of consensus on whether increasing minimum wage rates actually end up decreasing the rate of employment, in the general population and amongst youth. 

Some commenters call the two-tiered system “discriminatory,” as it could imply that youth do not deserve the same pay that everyone is entitled to. 

Students’ experiences

Fatima Nawaz, a second-year student at UTM, is working as a gallery attendant for the Blackwood Gallery through the Work Study program. Nawaz wrote in a message to The Varsity that she is currently receiving the increased minimum wage. 

Nawaz also said that she was pleased to see the increase, and now feels motivated to take on more shifts to benefit as much as possible from the increased rate. Nawaz said that the increased minimum wage rate is “fine enough” to support her lifestyle as she tends to save her money and be cautious. But, seeing a few extra dollars is a welcome experience.

Zakira Desai, a second-year humanities student, also wrote in a message to The Varsity that the dollar increase is welcome, especially considering the rising prices of goods and services. 

Desai is a chef at Hale Coffee and receives minimum wage. She noted that her hourly rate was changed immediately to accommodate the dollar increase on October 1. However, she believes that she needs her wage to increase more in order to live a comfortable lifestyle. Desai currently lives at home with her parents but has plans to move out and begin renting an apartment downtown. She believes that, considering the cost of paying rent, groceries, utilities, phone bill, and other living expenses, the minimum wage should be closer to $25 per hour.

Minimum wage still not high enough?

Indeed, the Ontario Living Wage Network calculates that the average “living wage” rate for an adult in Toronto is $23.15 an hour. The network, which advocates for wage increase initiatives in the province, bases the calculation on the yearly cost of basic goods and services for adults in a variety of family structures and then divides this cost by the number of full-time hours worked in a year. 

But that calculation is based on the assumption that a worker is working a full-time job. For university students who are dividing their time between coursework and their job, finances may be even tighter. 

The Ontario Student Assistance Program, other scholarships, and bursaries from U of T and its colleges make financial assistance available to students for this reason — although specific qualifications for these programs vary, and some students may have a hard time finding sufficient financial aid to support themselves.