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What does the announcement of a minimum wage increase mean for the McMaster Community? 

In 2017, Kathleen Wynne, previous premier of Ontario, stated that she wanted Ontario’s minimum wage to rise to $15 per hour by 2019. However, when the current Conservative government won in 2018, they promptly put a pause on this idea. Until now, approximately four years later, this idea finally became a reality. 

On Nov. 2, the Ontario government formally announced Bill 43, Build Ontario Act (Budget Measures) 202.

Effective as of Jan. 1, 2022, the minimum wage will officially rise to $15 per hour, which will be accompanied by other changes. 

It was also announced that the minimum wage would continue to increase in correlation with inflation once effective. The bill is currently going through the first reading, as stated on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario website.

"For many Ontarians wages haven't kept up with the increasing cost of living, making it harder than ever to make ends meet . . . I've always said, workers deserve to have more money in their pockets because they have worked hard and put in long hours. The least the government can do is ensure we're making life more affordable for them,” said Doug Ford, current premier of Ontario, at a news conference in Milton.

In early October, minimum wage had gone from $14.25 per hour to $14.35 per hour. That introduction came with a lot of criticism as people felt that the 10 cent increase was not meaningful. In addition, given the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, many claimed this change was disrespectful to essential workers and those struggling to make ends meet. 

This history of a minimum wage in Ontario is extensive and complex. From the years of 1995 to 2003 minimum wage had been frozen at $6.85 per hour. From there it has increased for several reasons, whether that be political or to simply follow inflation. As it continues to increase, the political parties, researchers and people of Canada continue to debate their own views on the topic.

In 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development sought to identify the demographics of those earning minimum wage. At the time they found that one in three adults will be making minimum wage at the prime of their working career. This statistic includes the adults of McMaster University, especially those who work under the Student Work Program offered by McMaster.

Clara Rakovac, a second-year commerce student at McMaster, works at Mill’s Memorial Library as part of the SWP. She shared how she is assigned shifts that cap at 10 hours a week, where each hour she is paid $14.35. The idea of a minimum wage increase was good news to her. 

Enisi Krasnica, a second-year biology student, works at the Health Sciences Library as part of the SWP. Krasnica explained how she also works at around a weekly 10 hour cap and is paid $15 an hour, which is one of the highest-paying SWP library jobs on campus. Though she is appreciative of the minimum wage increase, she also explained her reservations.

“Minimum wage isn't a living wage . . . A lot of [students] are on their own and have to pay for everything themselves. If you have a job you can’t really pay and live off of like $14 an hour, [or] even $15 an hour,”

Enise Krasnica

Students employed within the McMaster Student Union, the largest form of representation for undergraduate students, are also expected to be affected by the possible increase of minimum wage. John McGowan, the General Manager for MSU, explained how this increase would impact their operations. In this case, all part-time staff of MSU would notice an increase in wage.

“Historically, upon approval of the executive board, whatever the increase is to minimum wage — so I think this time it is 4.5% for non-food and beverage staff — we would take that increase and take it to the whole part-time staff wages grid. Not only do entry level positions receive the benefit, but so do other part-time staff members,” said McGowan.

As the announcement of an increased minimum wage comes forth, students are excited but critical of the new changes. The changes find their own ways to impact the McMaster community, students and administration alike. New discussions will surely emerge from the implementation of this new minimum wage, as happens whenever decisions impacting people’s entire lives are made.

Provincial-wide minimum wage increases to $14.25 on Oct. 1, 2020

As of Oct. 1, 2020 the new general minimum wage in Ontario will increase for the first time since the increase to $14.00 per hour from $11.60 per hour on Jan. 1, 2018. That minimum wage increase was put in place by Kathleen Wynne's government in 2017 and the minimum wage was set to increase to $15.00 per hour on Jan. 1, 2019.

The increase to $15.00 per hour was cancelled in September 2018 by the then-newly elected Doug Ford government. The Fight For $15 and Fairness organization, as well as other community and labour groups, opposed the cancellation due to concerns for low-income workers and the high costs of living. The Ford government cited the impact of the $2.40 per hour – nearly 20 per cent – increase on businesses as the reason for the cancellation of the next increase.

The Ontario Living Wage Network is an organization to promote and highlight living wage campaigns across Ontario. The Network has defined a living wage as “the hourly wage a worker needs to earn to cover their basic expenses and participate in their community.”

“The hourly wage a worker needs to earn to cover their basic expenses and participate in their community.”

The website has a Living Wage Employer Directory of certified businesses and organizations that pay their employees the regional living wage or more.

The 2019 living wage in Hamilton, Ontario was $16.45 per hour, an increase from the 2018 living wage of $15.85 per hour. The wage is calculated based on the monthly costs of a family of two adults and two children, both adults work 37.5 hours per week and have no savings or debt repayments.

In March 2020, Ward 3 Hamilton councillor Nrinder Nann presented a motion to increase the minimum wage for all summer students and non-union part-time city employees. The proposed minimum wage was the 2019 Hamilton living wage of $16.45 per hour. The vote was defeated by 10-4. If passed, it would have increased the hourly wages of nearly 1,000 people.

“But if this is socialism as its worst then let's pay for everybody’s bills,” said Councillor Terry Whitehead of Ward 14 who opposed the motion.


In an email statement, McMaster Students Union vice president (Finance) Jess Anderson sent the new MSU wage grid effective Oct. 1, 2020. The MSU wage for all part-time employees was above minimum wage, the lowest current hourly rate at $14.10 and will increase each hourly rate by $0.25.

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Part-time MSU employees, all full-time students, work variable hours. The Union Market customer service representative job description specified 8-15 hours per week. However, it is unclear if and how hours per week have changed at MSU business units, such as Union Market and TwelvEighty Bar & Grill, have changed due to reduced operating hours.

The McMaster Student Work Program, also known as Work/Study, is available for students with financial need to work a maximum of 10 hours per week during the school year. 

The placements offered through Work/Study require minimum wage but, according to the Registrar, many employers pay above the minimum wage. Of the 27 positions still available as of Sept. 28, 2020, the majority offer above the $14.00 per hour and $14.25 per hour minimum wage.

Photo by Kyle West

On Oct. 23, the provincial government officially scrapped Bill 148, which had called for a rise in minimum wage to $15 in 2019, in addition to a number of protections for workers. Premier Doug Ford claims that Bill 148 was “too much, too fast” and a “job killer.”

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has opposed the labour reforms and further minimum wage hikes, arguing that the recently instituted higher minimum wage has hurt small businesses and the overall economy. However, the government did say that the minimum wage will stay at $14 an hour for 33 months.

Fight for $15 and Fairness, a prominent province-wide labour rights advocacy group, has strongly opposed this announcement. The organization’s McMaster chapter has been active in raising awareness about the current situation.

Fight for $15 and Fairness McMaster organizer Chloe Rockarts said that having a relatively high minimum wage has been beneficial both for students and for university workers such as food staff.

Rockarts also stressed that if the bill is scrapped, there will be more consequences beyond just affecting minimum wage workers, citing the “equal pay for equal work” principle and paid sick day provisions as examples.

“For those that are not necessarily in those workplaces where people are getting paid minimum wage do not see it directly affecting them, but what we would like to do is focus less on the ‘15’ aspect and more on the fairness,” said Rockarts.

McMaster labour studies professor Stephanie Ross echoed many of the same concerns, adding that the minimum wage increase has resulted in an improved economy.

“We see job growth in those provinces that increased their minimum wage,” said Ross. “The negative effects of repealing Bill 148 will be serious for Mac students, as people most likely to work in minimum wage jobs and who are struggling to make and save money for tuition and living expenses.”

To push back against the minimum wage freeze, Fight for 15 McMaster held a rally at Jackson Square as part of a province-wide “day of action” to support Bill 148 and the scheduled wage increase. The next day, they held a bake sale to promote discussion on the topic.

“We are just trying to raise awareness around all of these things right now,” said Rockarts. “Generally, a lot of the campaign work that we do is focused on outreach.”

Beyond outreach, they are planning on contacting local MPPs to urge them to support the bill.  

The bill was planned to be fully implemented in 2019. In January 2019, certain scheduling protections for employees along with the minimum wage increase were scheduled to come into effect.

Despite the sealed fate of Bill 148, Rockarts is feeling optimistic about Fight for 15 McMaster’s campaign this year so far.

“This is our third year and we are only getting bigger and doing more,” said Rockarts, who notes that the group has seen increased engagement since the implementation of Bill 148 and the election of Doug Ford.

“Because it has been in the news so much, and because people are being directly affected at work, people are way more interested and way more willing to engage,” said Rockarts.

While the provincial government goes forward with their plan to cut Bill 148, it remains increasingly clear that they face immense opposition.  

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[spacer height="20px"]A few weeks ago, the provincial government froze the minimum wage at $14 per hour and cut the planned increase to $15 per hour that was planned for January 2019. With this cut, many businesses, but not all, have decided to forgo the planned increase they had set up for employees. The McMaster Students Union should not be one of them.

Studies have shown that the actual living wage in Hamilton is $15.85. The cost of tuition ranges, but the majority of programs at McMaster are roughly $7000, with some programs slightly below that figure, and many significantly above, going as high as $13,829. There’s no collected data on the average rent McMaster students pay, but anecdotal evidence points to most students living in off-campus housing paying somewhere around $500 per month, not including utilities. Some students pay less and others pay more.

With this in mind, working during your undergraduate degree is inevitable for a lot of people. Whether it’s a retail job or a paid internship, many students find themselves working two to three jobs at a time just to pay all of their fees. I can personally think of a handful of friends and acquaintances who juggled three jobs just to pay for rent and school.

The MSU employs 300 students, and the jobs they offer are unique to the university bubble. They offer the kind of experience many people would not receive otherwise and are often set up with the student schedule in mind, making them ideal for anyone who wants to work on campus. The MSU’s minimum wage for these jobs is currently $14.15.

It’s no secret that students are struggling to pay tuition and the rising costs of rent. One of the easiest ways to support these students is to go ahead with the wage increase, something that had already been worked into the 2018-2019 budget.

The MSU has a lot of initiatives that support low-in- come students such as the Food Collective Centre, but one of the easiest ways they could vastly improve the livelihood of hundreds of McMaster students is by raising the wages for their workers. The MSU is run almost entirely off of student labour, so it would only make sense that these students are compensated appropriately.

If the MSU really wants to support low-income students, they could easily do so by making sure that their workers are compensated appropriately. In doing so, they set a standard not only for other student unions but for any future employers students may have.

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By: Takhliq Amir

On Jan. 1 of this year, Ontario’s general minimum wage, in accordance with Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, saw what is considered a somewhat drastic rise from $11.60 an hour to $14 an hour.

As a student who has held various work positions over the past few years, I was nervous due to the predictions that such a minimum wage hike would shrink the economy or cost vulnerable populations, including youth like post-secondary students or recent graduates, our ability to find good jobs.   

When the bill went into effect at the start of the year, news of a Tim Hortons in Cobourg cutting its workers’ benefits and other branches asking their employees to pay for uniforms or turn in their tips began to emerge. Such stories, as well as concerns raised by small businesses even before the change occurred, seemed to only propagate the fear that now seemed to be coming true. Although McMaster made changes to its part-time wage grid to reflect the new minimum wage and continued its policy of paying part-time staff 15 cents higher at minimum, my first thought was to question whether McMaster would be hiring fewer students as a result moving forward.

Tied to the Ontario government’s current theme of fairness for all, the ideal vision for the new labour law is to stimulate economic activity by increasing consumer spending — after all, what will individuals do other than spend the extra money they earn? This, in turn, is expected to lead to job creation and offset some of the expected loss in employment, a logic that some are still finding hard to grasp.

It remains a question whether academic institutions moving forward will cut positions, especially independent researchers whose capacity to hire students depends on the funding they have received for their projects.

The tight timeline has led to understandable anger and agitation, even pushing some employers to either implement or consider drastic changes. Some have suggested replacing temporary workers with “higher paid, more productive” employees or, alternatively, introducing automation to reduce the need for human capital where possible. Others have expressed concern in their ability to keep on workers, stating that they don’t want to fire their employees but are unable to keep all of them at a higher minimum wage when their budgets are often limited and their profits modest.

I can see that these fears aren’t irrational. However, this issue remains one largely created by the way that it has been painted in the media even more so than any large-scale impact it has had in such a short time. For instance, variable projections were made about how many jobs would be lost due to this law.

The impact of the new minimum wage is supposed to be negligible at a macroeconomic level, with these numbers equalling the number of fewer jobs that might be created as opposed to the number of jobs lost. A slight technicality, but it does mean a difference.

While the bill seems to have its merits and faults, perhaps a valid argument is made by individuals who believe that it creates greater barriers for those who don’t. This includes the vulnerable populations this bill aims to help, including youth or new immigrants who may already be having a tough time finding work.

While McMaster hasn’t necessarily made any cuts to the number of positions open to students, it remains a question whether academic institutions moving forward will cut positions, especially independent researchers whose capacity to hire students depends on the funding they have received for their projects.

However, it’s too early to label this as a failure. Doesn’t it seem sensible to assume that those who do have work positions may just help grow the economy simply because $14 (and $15 soon) sounds a lot better than $11.60? The main voice of opposition has been the small businesses, but the individual perspectives have largely been silent, most of whom stand to benefit from an increased wage.

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By: Sunanna Bhasin

I remember scrolling through endless lists of summer jobs last year trying to find something worth my time. I had specific criteria to fill when looking at potential job, the biggest one being a job that actually offered to pay me. Students want experience, yes, but most of us would like to pay off our student loans or help our parents out. Some of us would even like to save for post-graduation. So when I see unpaid internships plaguing job listings when I have bills to pay, just like any other working adult, I can’t help but clench my fists at the blatant disregard for the hardworking, often loan-bearing post-secondary students.

Unpaid internships are a means of manipulating post-secondary students into doing free labour. Students are told that they need real-life work experience to get anywhere after graduation, and so they feel compelled to take whatever they can get. However, there are students who are struggling to pay their tuition and still require that important experience. Should they be expected to compromise and work for free? Companies who leech off unpaid internships are well aware that students will likely work without complaint because they are looking for reference letters and likely hope to receive a full-time job offer at the end. Companies may also exploit their interns by giving them gruelling tasks that may not provide them with the skillset they’re looking for, or set ridiculous hours for students who are often not in a position to reject them.

Economically speaking, it makes little sense that companies would want to have students work for free. Efficiency wage theory states that firms that pay efficiency wages, or wages that are higher than the market equilibrium or average, do so in order to avoid shirking on the job, reduce turnover, and attract productive employees. There is the possibility that students won’t neglect their job because they are looking for other rewards, such as the aforementioned reference letter (so that they can get a paid job in the future). However, the third point about attracting productive employees is out the window. Just as I scroll past unpaid internships, I’m sure there are many others who refuse to work for free. These are students who would potentially make very valuable employees.

The unpaid internship is a loophole in Canada’s labour laws. The minimum wage laws do not cover every single type of employment, and internships happen to be one of them. This needs to change. If a company is making profit, it has no right to ‘hire’ individuals to work for them without pay. Using the label “volunteer position” in place of “unpaid internship” does not suddenly make the practice okay. Volunteer positions should exist only at non-profit organizations because they don’t have a means to pay all employees. It is ridiculous to be able to take advantage of students who need experience in a certain field but also bear the burden of debt on their shoulders. Students should be able to obtain valuable work experience while at the same time making money to put towards continuing education or to pay off existing bills.

Ultimately, the unpaid internship is a means of exploiting students by perpetuating the notion that experience should be their primary concern and that everything else should be secondary, when in fact, students have real financial worries that need to be addressed while they are still in school, rather than later in life, when they are knee-deep in debt.

Several student unions in Ontario have joined the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $14. Anti-poverty groups proposed the minimum wage hike in March this year as part of their ‘Fair Wages Now’ campaign.

Alastair Woods, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (Ontario), said members voted unanimously in their August general meeting to support the cause. Leading up to Nov. 14, a designated day of action, students joined community groups in voicing their concerns to local politicians.

“The last time we had a minimum wage increase was in 2010. Since then, the cost of education and living has gone up significantly,” Woods said. “The $14 [was determined] through community consultation to bring full-time workers about 10 per cent over the poverty line.”

Guled Arale, VP (external) for the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus Student Union, has been working with community groups to advocate for a $14 minimum wage.

“We had a forum a few weeks ago with 200 to 250 people in Scarborough and it was really good to see that many people working on this issue - not all of them were students, but many were parents of students,” Arale said.

Arale said a minimum wage hike would help students earn a living wage, particularly those working in casual or part-time positions while in school.

“Every year, the cost of living goes up for students, but a lot of students who do work minimum wage don't see their wages increase,” he said.

In a similar vein, Carleton University’s Graduate Students’ Association recently supported the hike in a presentation to the Ontario government’s minimum wage advisory panel. The panel was formed in the summer and will advise the province on future minimum wage increases.

“A lot of graduate students work as a TA or RA and take other jobs on the side,” said Lauren Montgomery, VP (external) of the Carleton GSA. “If the minimum wage were to be $14, grad students could take on less part-time jobs and put more into their schoolwork and teaching.”

She also mentioned the mounting pressure graduate students face in terms of rising tuition, debt load and, in many cases, childcare costs.

Along with groups such as the Workers’ Action Centre, the CFS-Ontario has submitted recommendations to the province’s advisory panel.

“Just two decades ago, a student could work full-time at minimum wage over the summer at 35 hours a week for 9 weeks, and pay off a year’s worth of undergraduate tuition fees. Today, it would take at least 20 weeks at minimum wage...more weeks than are in the summer,” CFS-Ontario’s submission states.

According to Statistics Canada, 60 per cent of minimum wage workers are under 25 years old, and of those youth workers, 44 per cent aged 20 to 24 attend school.

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