The Manitoba provincial government raised the province’s minimum wage from $11.95 per hour to $13.50 per hour on Oct. 1, with plans to further increase it to $14.15 per hour in April 2023 and $15 per hour by October 2023.
Local unions and policy think tanks have criticized the government, saying that the increase is not enough given recent inflation.
UMSU vice-president advocacy Victoria Romero said that although she appreciates the government making this “long-awaited” change, it is not enough.
“A minimum wage increase is a good place to start, but it’s not enough, and they need to be working a lot harder to address the many financial burdens that stand in the way of students, particularly international students and marginalized students,” she said.
“This estimate of 15 dollars being a living wage is a very old figure, and for the Manitoba government to have taken this long to have even made a change at all, let alone one that is barely adequate, it says a lot.”
Manitoba still has one of the lowest minimum wages in the country, and Romero argued that many students’ lives have been made unaffordable by the current provincial government.
“Students have always been a demographic that is very vulnerable to financial hardship, and especially through the last couple years with the pandemic it’s become more apparent than ever that they are a demographic that needs support, and it’s not something that we’re receiving,” Romero said.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), a policy think tank, has calculated that in 2022 a living wage for a family of four with two earners in Winnipeg would be $18.34 per hour, an increase of more than two dollars from its estimate of $16.15 per hour in 2020.
In the four year period from 2016 to 2020, the CCPA’s estimate increased by just over $1.50.
The rate of inflation in Manitoba as of August 2022 — the most recent month for which data is available — was eight per cent, compared to seven percent nationally.
“Our tuition is one thing, but again, adding the cost of textbooks, the cost of living which continues to rise, the cost of food, basic necessities, gas, all these things that have been impacted by inflation,” Romero said.
Romero noted that marginalized students and international students in particular struggle with financial burdens, with international students paying much higher tuition rates than their domestic counterparts.
“They especially need a minimum wage that can support them working, even if it’s not full time, and still being able to support an education,” she said.
She also pointed out that international students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week if they’re not working on campus.
“Currently as VP advocacy, I’m doing an in-depth review into student employment at the UM and wages for how they compare percentage-wise to the minimum wage,” Romero said.
Romero noted that UMSU jobs pay more than minimum wage, and said she is looking into ways to improve the supports available to students working on campus.
She said she hopes the government’s move to increase minimum wage is “the start of something new,” but added that she won’t let her hopes get too high.
“Overall, it’s good that there’s something being done, but it’s long overdue. People have been calling on this for a long time, and again 15 dollars still is not even enough to be a living wage.”