A Living Wage

Despite the fact that the current Ontario Government cancelled the minimum wage increase that was intended to come into effect on January 1, the reality is that the planned $15/hr wage – although an improvement – was still not enough to meet the current living wage in Guelph.

For those curious, the Guelph Wellington Poverty Elimination Task Force has set the living wage for Guelph at $16.90 per hour. For those working full time (~40 hours per week) at the current $14/hr minimum wage, that means they are making roughly $6,000 less per year (gross) than what is needed in Guelph to pay their bills and cover the costs of shelter and food.

Defined by the
Ontario Living Wage Network,
a living wage is “the hourly wage a worker needs to earn to cover their basic expenses and participate in the community”

While I can’t do anything immediately about the current government’s decision to hold the minimum wage at less than 83% of what a person in Guelph would need, I can at least control the compensation that my various undergraduate and graduate research assistants receive. Of course, while almost none of them are working full-time hours, that doesn’t mean I can’t provide a living wage for those hours they are working. As such, from this point forward, and wherever it is in my control, my research assistants will receive at least the living wage for the City of Guelph1, as determined by the Guelph Wellington’s Poverty Elimination Task Force.

Why am I doing this?

First and foremost, I believe it’s the right thing to do and it would be hypocritical of me to support the idea of a living wage, but not to provide it to the people who work with me. This is particularly important when one considers that post-secondary students are one of the segments of the population that are most at risk to food insecurity [check out the 2017-2018 Hunger Report for more details]. In fact, it’s estimated that between 28 and 36 percent of post-secondary students are food insecure. These statistics are staggering, and we should be doing more to fix the problem. A living wage will help do that.

Of course, I think it’s also important to pay students a living wage because it’s part of the true cost of doing research. I think most academics and researchers are forced to find ways to cut costs because the amount of money we can get from grants is limited. As much as I would like an infinite supply of money to do all the research I want, the funding limitations and cost-cutting isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it can help us to identify what is absolutely essential to the research at hand. And of course, limited funds are the reality in which we work. But, if granting agencies are going to fund research, then it’s important as academics that we are realistic about its cost so they can more effectively distribute the funds they have to offer.

As I write this, I have to wonder if I’m late to the game. Have other academics already started doing this? I’d love to hear from you.


1 Note: Graduate Teaching Assistant and Undergraduate Teaching Assistant rates are set by their union.

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