Child Labour with a Few Bonuses on the Side

Sabina Wex

“So we’ll be paying you $950 if you get the job,” my interviewer said.

“A week?!” I exclaimed excitedly.

He laughs. “No, that’s the lump sum for the eight weeks you’ll be working.”

I was stunned. $950 for eight weeks? That’s $80 a week—the amount you would make in an eight hour shift at a minimum wage job. I would be working for at least eight hours a day, five days at a week, at this camp, and make in a week what I could make in a day. At any other institution, this would be an unacceptable wage; but at the summer day camps of Toronto, this is completely normal.

One of the questions on the application that I had filled out prior to the interview was how much I would like to be paid for the whole summer. I had written down $2870, which is what I had calculated I would earn for eight weeks at a minimum wage job. My
interviewer saw this as he flipped through my application and must have sensed
I was tad concerned about the low pay. He explained to me that at this camp,
the benefits you gain are not just money, you get a chance to gain leadership experience, meet some really cool people, and receive reference letters
for university.

Hurray. I signed up for child labour with a few bonuses on the side.

I’m not even joking when I say that being a counsellor is almost like child labour. You’re working incredibly hard, controlling a bunch of kids, who aren’t always going to be very
cooperative, and have some long days for staff meetings and overnights. Plus,
you have to fit in the commute time. You already aren’t getting paid the proper
amount, and now you aren’t getting paid for all the extra hours you put in.

It’s not just this particular camp that pays so badly, it’s the majority of day camps. I talked to a few friends of mine who worked at day camps last summer, and they all said they also only got paid around $950 for the eight weeks.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s camp and you’re going to have so much more fun than you would working at McDonalds!  I agree; working at McDonalds
is probably a lot less stimulating. However, I don’t know about you, but I am
trying to pay for university next year. I know my parents are probably going to
be contributing most of the money, but it would be nice to take a bit of the onus
off them and pitch in.

Since nobody else seemed to be very upset about the low pay that day camps offered, I decided to investigate on my own. I soon found out that all childcare workers are exempt from the minimum wage law and that their employers decide how much they get paid. Not only does this affect us camp counsellors, but it also affects any day care
workers, nannies, babysitters, etc. I found it disgusting that the most
important and hardest job—taking care of children, our future—was the only one
that was able to be paid even less than minimum wage. I decided to call the
Ministry of Labour and get to bottom of this thievery and find out how on earth
the Ontario government approved a bill like this.

“Honey, I just don’t know why it’s like that,” said the operator at the Ministry of Labour. “That’s just the way the legislation is. If you want to change it, call your MPP.”

I took this ignorant woman’s advice and called Dr. Eric Hoskins himself. Unfortunately, after calling him twice, and leaving messages both times, the Doctor refused to call me back.

Since the government wouldn’t call me back, I took it upon myself to call the Ontario Camps Association (OCA) and confront them about their unjust wages for counsellors.

“Sorry, sweetie,” said the operator at the OCA, “we only deal with the health and safety standards of the camps.”

“So you don’t care about the counsellors?” I asked.

“No, of course we do!” said the operator. “But the Ministry of Labour’s in charge of their wages, not us. Try the Ministry if you want to know about the pay.”

Thanks for the tip!

The summer day camps of Torontoand the Ontario
government need to end this monetary skim-page towards their camp counsellors.
However, they probably never will, as counsellors continue to work for them for
one-fifth of minimum wage. Since the students of NT are the average ages that
camp counsellors are, we need to take this upon ourselves and act for the
future of camp counsellors. We must demand a fair pay of minimum wage, even if
it’s awkward to ask; we must stand up for our rights, even when the camp
directors tell us to sit down; and we, most importantly, must spread the word
to tell all the teenagers in Toronto to tell these camps that just because
we’re young, does not mean we can be taken advantage of.