Students urgently need income support but CUPE believes that help shouldn’t come at the cost of driving down wages and working conditions for all workers.

The federal government’s new Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) has attracted attention because of the government’s highly unusual decision to offer a $900 million contract to a charitable organization with ties to the Trudeau family, but no experience in program delivery.

But even now that WE Canada has withdrawn from the contract, CUPE’s concerns about the CSSG remain. The program as it is currently structured will pay students an hourly wage that is significantly below minimum wage and creates incentives for employers to evade responsibilities regarding pensions, benefits, and working hours.

Students are desperate for financial support, as they face high tuition bills but are unable to find work due to the global pandemic. The new Canada Emergency Student Benefit provides some support, but pays less than the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, even though students don’t get a discount on food and housing costs. We shouldn’t be taking advantage of that desperation to replace paid jobs with volunteer positions that offer less than minimum wage.

Instead, the federal government should provide an immediate boost in funding to the Canada Summer Jobs program, in addition to allowing public entities to qualify for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program. This would allow many public sector employers, such as municipalities and post-secondary institutions, to hire students for seasonal jobs.