To the many students whom we at the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) have spoken with on campus over the past year, the idea of a “student worker” is a foreign concept. Students come to McGill to study, to earn a degree that will lead to a career, and any part-time job that they happen to have during the course of their education is auxiliary.
Students who work part-time on campus see their jobs as either supplementary to their education (such as helping in a lab) or a meaningless job to earn extra cash (such as working a couple hours per week in the bookstore); they do not see themselves on par with other (full-time, permanent, non-student) employees. Furthermore, McGill’s practice of calling the positions mostly filled by students “casual” does not encourage so-called “casual employees” to see themselves at the same level of importance as permanent employees.
The term “casual” hardly describes the importance of the work done on campus by casuals. In fact, 55 per cent of the University’s non-academic positions are taken by casuals – positions that offer support to hundreds of departments, in hundreds of buildings, across two campuses. Many of these workers are non-students in part-time, full-time, and temporary positions.
Student workers often perform tasks similar to full-time permanent employees, though they are usually paid less and do not receive basic benefits or job security. This pattern gives rise to a question: if you are a “casual employee,” are you entitled to the same rights as a permanent employees?
I would like to invite all students who work on campus to see themselves as employees who deserve equal rights, such as fair salaries and wage increases, job security and benefits. As it stands, the University is obligated to comply with the Quebec Labour Standards Act, and other federal and provincial laws, such as the Pay Equity Act and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Although in some cases these requirements have been exceeded, there are also some instances where the University has failed, and for most employees, the standards have barely been met. The best way to make sure these standards are complied with is through collective bargaining.
It is difficult to see the benefit of fighting as large an institution as McGill for your rights in a part-time or short-term job. Students are busy with courses, applications to graduate schools, summer internships, and, of course, their part-time jobs. However, it is imperative that student employees demand their rights. Within four years of working on campus, there is much to be gained.
Union involvement can not only help students earn fairer wages for their time, but can also facilitate the solution of problems many students face – like scheduling and job security issues. It is exactly for the reason that students are so busy with everything that is part of student life that they should not have to worry about their part time or summer job.
“Casual” student employees who were unsatisfied with the University’s treatment founded AMUSE in 2009 (we were accredited this past January). We are eager to help all casual employees (both students and non-students) with all issues that they face in the workplace. We are looking for input from employees as we begin writing our first collective agreement, and negotiating with McGill for the rights of present and future student employees. Get involved – know your rights.
Jamie MacLean is a U2 English literature and political science student and the vice-president of AMUSE. Write her at email@example.com.
For advice, advocacy and support or any questions about Quebec labour laws, contact AMUSE at firstname.lastname@example.org.