The Government of Canada recently announced a program that will compensate post-secondary students for volunteering with organizations within their community through the Canada Student Service Grant. Students can volunteer with their current organizations, or if they need a placement, WE Charity will place them with an organization in their community. For every 100 hours the students complete, they will receive $1,000, with a maximum of $5,000 per student.
The government appointed WE Charity to oversee the program and will be paying them based on how many students are placed in volunteer positions. Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is active within WE Charity and many people feel that this goes against the Conflict of Interest Act as this can advance the organization’s interests and position, which also leads to the advancement of Grégoire Trudeau’s interests. While this could indeed qualify as a scandal that needs attention, we are more concerned about the underlying idea of the exploitation of some of our most vulnerable workers.
First of all, there are many students who do not qualify for this program and will not benefit from supplemental income through the grants. International students do not qualify even if they remained in Canada throughout the pandemic which is problematic because these students will be facing the same income disparity and uncertainty as other students. Also, students who are receiving, or who have previously received, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) do not qualify for the program.
For students to be able to earn the full $5,000 grant from the government they would be required to complete at least 28 hours a week of volunteer service over the next 18 weeks. This is an unrealistic expectation for many students as they may be working or completing their studies, and to be able to devote enough time to the program to earn the full amount would be back-breaking. As volunteers, these students would not be afforded the regular employment protections through our legislation, and this could lead to many scenarios in which these students are taken advantage of and placed in harmful working conditions. The program runs from June 25th until October 31st, 2020. This means that if a student manages to complete the full 500 hours of volunteer work, they are essentially earning slightly under $10/hour. This is an exploitative wage rate, which is well below the minimum wage here in Ontario.
Why is the government implementing this program when they could simply allow a wider range of students to apply and qualify for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB)? The CESB provides qualifying students with $1,250/month to help them navigate these tough times. These students are facing enormous pressures to complete their post-secondary education in good standing, and their biggest fear is jeopardizing that. It is clear that this pandemic is dangerous, but do we know the long-term effects of this virus? There could be serious long-term consequences, and we all know that this virus can kill. Why would students risk their lives and well-being for a volunteer position (online or in person) that pays them poorly and provides very few benefits when they can qualify for CESB without endangering themselves or their mental well-being?
This program presents itself to be extremely beneficial for students who need the extra money to help carry them through the next school year, but once we take a closer look it seems to be a program that could put students at risk of exploitation and further setbacks. We are exploiting young workers by paying them to volunteer for an atrocious hourly wage to try and make up for the fact that there are not enough well-paying jobs for them throughout the summer. This program could seriously harm young, vulnerable workers, and it could even redefine volunteerism with an expectation of pay for performing community service. Is this program truly beneficial for students or will it simply make them accustomed and oblivious to exploitative work throughout their lives?
To read more about the program, click here. https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/volunteer