Photo by Kyle West
From the Student Representative Assembly requiring a survivor to disclose their assault in order for the removal of a perpetrator on the assembly to news of rampant sexual assault within the McMaster Students Union Maroons, this past year has been filled with controversy.
Given the events of this year, and what has occurred in the past, it is shocking that the MSU lacks a formal human resources department.
HR departments exist to deal with workplace disputes and ultimately ensure that employees are aware of their rights as minimally outlined by the Ontario Employment Standards Act. This includes the creation, implementation and enforcement of policies and structures that support employee rights like formal complaint structures and disciplinary policies.
Currently, the only HR presence that exists within the MSU is through the operations coordinator, Maddison Hampel. Though Hampel has formalized HR training and experience, her role does not allow her to adequately support all HR functions of the MSU.
Unfortunately, the only HR-focused training for student employees ends at the mandatory online workplace health and safety training modules that all employees of McMaster University are required to complete.
The majority of student employees, myself included, have never even been formally introduced to Hampel or made aware of our employment rights during our training sessions.
If we had a formal HR department, it is extremely likely that the Maroons sexual assault allegations would have been dealt with appropriately.
In fact, with a proper HR department, policies for sexual assault and workplace harassment would likely already be in place, and be created by individuals with the expertise to do so.
A formal HR department could also allow for better and more comprehensive hiring practices wherein individuals who were previously reported to the department are properly dealt with and not re-hired for other positions within the MSU, a consistent problem of the institution.
At the very least, an HR department that is independent of the MSU could allow student workers to feel comfortable reporting any issues. As it stands, I report my workplace issues to my direct supervisors, but this gets complicated if my concerns are about individuals in positions of power.
An HR department can ensure supervisors are accountable for their actions and held to an expected level of professionalism.
Josh Marando, president-elect of the MSU for the 2019-2020 year, has acknowledged that the lack of a formal HR department is an issue. One of his platform points is to restructure the internal operations of the MSU.
According to his #BuildTogether platform, he plans to divide the current full-time staff position of operations coordinator to create a specific HR coordinator who is independent from the board.
While the operations coordinator’s role would be shifted to focus largely on supporting clubs and internal operations, the proposed HR coordinator is meant to “support our students through connecting with university programs that have a focus on equity and anti-discrimination.”
Though creation of an independent HR coordinator is an important first step, it is not enough. The MSU is comprised of over 40 full-time permanent staff and 300 part-time student staff. A singular HR coordinator cannot possibly support this vast number of employees.
The lumping of the HR coordinator role with equity and anti-discrimination programs can also be problematic. Certainly the future HR coordinator can and should consult with equity groups to ensure their policies are consistent with student needs, but it is important that the two ultimately remain separate.
This is because it is possible that issues concerning diversity and discrimination may arise from the HR department. This would then make it difficult for individuals to report issues to the same department where the issues stem from.
What the MSU needs is a full-blown autonomous HR department, with policies in place and trained personnel. Only through implementation of an HR department can the MSU truly account for the safety of its student employees.
It’s important to remember that students employed by the MSU are employees. They deserve the same respect and safety enforced by a HR department in any other workplace.
Honestly, student workers should be unionized to ensure their rights are defended. Until they are, the MSU must do a better job in the 2019-2020 year of protecting their employees through implementation of formal HR resources and personnel.