The dire state of student employment

Aesidence assistants at Mt. A are among the worst paid in the country. Allison Grogan/Archives

Student employment at Mount Allison has become a significant part of our university experience. This has happened in light of increased tuition costs and the need to enter the full-time work force with both an education and a wealth of practical work experience. While it can be said that student jobs on campus are available in order to enrich our academic experience and prepare us for full-time work, it is also important to note that they fill important roles that support daily university functions and that, as members of this community, we deserve to have our issues addressed.

Unfortunately, student employees are not granted the same protections that are in place for other workers on campus, such as our professors, librarians, facilities management employees and some administrative staff. Instead, we have been forced to work for the university without any legal protections or mechanisms to address our employment concerns. This is troubling, as a Right to Information Request from 2016 determined that Mt. A does not have an applicable liability insurance policy that protects student employees, such as residence assistants (RAs) or Event Security Services staff, from lawsuits that could stem from cases in which they are placed in compromising situations (which occur almost every weekend).

Furthermore, almost no students – myself included (now a teaching assistant [TA]) – applying for an on-campus job are provided with a formal job description. This is a serious issue because a job description serves as the legal baseline for determining the duties required of a certain employment position. Job descriptions ensure that employees are fairly compensated and stipulate that legally, employees do not have to perform duties not outlined in the job description, such as cleaning up vomit as an RA.

Student employees are also not provided with institutional mechanisms that allow us to file grievances in cases where we are improperly or arbitrarily fired or discriminated against in a hiring process, or where other work-related issues arise, such as sexual harassment or employer negligence.

In many cases, student employees are also not properly trained and if they are, training is usually unpaid. For example, TAs for the biology department undergo three hours of unpaid training. This is a violation of the New Brunswick Employment Standards Act, which stipulates that all required meetings and training must be paid. (The same goes for online Moodle training, which is required for other campus jobs).

In addition to these issues, student employees are severely underpaid, compared to other universities in Canada  – even those in the Maritimes. Undergraduate TAs at Saint Mary’s, where tuition is approximately $6,860 for a resident of N.S., make $17.11 per hour, compared to a mere $13.30/h at Mt. A, even though we pay approximately $900 more in tuition. They also have job descriptions. To top it all off, our RAs are some of the worst-paid in the country, second-lowest only to UPEI.

Although all of these problems are present, when students have attempted to engage in discussions with the administration about solving them, our grievances and complaints were ignored and productive solutions were not created. Take, for example, the extensive discussions undertaken by the MASU last year on behalf of RAs. The result of these discussions, backed with the creation of a report containing hard data on the underpaid and overworked nature of on-campus student employment, was a reduction of positions and a minor increase in salaries, which led to a net increase of $0 for RA pay.

As student employees, we should not stand for this institutional negligence and we should not support the status quo. Instead, we should make our voices louder and force the administration to take our issues seriously, as they do for other employee groups on campus. As the “Best Undergraduate University in Canada,” we cannot allow for the continuation of this unjust employer negligence.

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