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The SU must pay its employees fairly to promote its mandate

By Melanie Woods, April 4 2017 —

The University of Calgary Students’ Union is currently hiring part- and full-time positions for the upcoming summer and academic year. These include roles like Social Media Coordinator, Volunteer Services Coordinator and Program and Events Assistant. These positions are designed to be filled by students and require around 10–15 hours of work per week. Like most student staff positions in the SU, they pay $12.20 per hour — Alberta’s current minimum wage, as of Oct. 1, 2016.

The minimum wage is set to rise to $15 per hour in 2018. And the SU will have to catch up too in how they pay their student staff by then. But why wait? In the upcoming year, the SU should prioritize offering accessible and well-paying jobs for students by ensuring the wages for student staff are competitive — $15 an hour would be a great start.

The SU makes a big deal about advocating for affordable tuition, reducing mandatory non-instructional fees and lobbying affordable housing options like secondary suites. But providing accessible, well-paying employment to students is an easy way to ensure students’ financial stability.

The SU currently doesn’t have an official stance on minimum wage legislation. But in May 2015, then-SU vice-president external Romy Garrido told the Gauntlet she saw a potential increased minimum wage as a positive step.

“Part-time jobs are really not cutting it to be able to pay your way through education, ” Garrido said.

The SU already supports fair wages for students through their Student’s Union Program for Education Related Work (SUPERwork) and also advocated for the Summer Temporary Employment program to resume in summer 2015. Through the SUPERWork program, the SU provides $1,000 wage subsidies for students working over the summer in a field related to their degree but who are paid less than $12.50 per hour. It’s a great program and a great idea, but its mentality should expand to the SU’s own operations.

Unlike university employees, food service workers or faculty on campus, SU employees are not unionized. This means there is no way for them to collectively bargain for their rights or wage increases.

Most administrative student staff employed by the university make around $17 per hour, a wage mandated by their union. All staff at the U of C are members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which advocates for worker rights like wages, hours, vacation pay and time off. The student staff at the SU don’t have this benefit, despite often doing incredibly similar administrative work with similar hours.

I know it’s easy to simply demand the SU allocate more funding and not say where it should come from. With the loss of the MacHall injunction, the SU has less money and more places they need to put it. People have been laid off, services outsourced and belts tightened left, right and centre. But that’s no excuse to deny students fair compensation for their labour. The SU is going to have to pay their student staff this much in a year, they might as well start doing it now.

Monetary compensation is a hot topic at the SU right now. Students’ Legislative Council recently debated a motion to revoke a $50 monthly bonus for elected officials. The motion failed narrowly. During the debate, SU Faculty of Law representative Mark Shearer said the pay is what made SU jobs accessible.

“In searching out a new law rep, the pay was the only thing that really came close to enticing people to run for the position,” Shearer said.

The same can be said for part-time student staff. The SU shouldn’t just incrementally increase student staff salaries as the minimum wage slowly rises. They must take a proactive approach and offer accessible employment to students now. As an organization built around supporting students on campus, providing accessible and fair-paying jobs is fully within the SU’s mandate.

Someone like a Food Bank Coordinator or Event Assistant deserves to be paid fairly now — not to have to wait until 2018.

 

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