A picture of the MSU office with the MSU logo at the front. Underneath there is a black couch.C/O Cindy Cui

By relying on students to work overtime in their MSU roles, low-income students are being barred from MSU jobs

The McMaster Students Union provides over 300 part-time job opportunities for full-time undergraduate students. For many students, MSU jobs can be incredibly convenient as you don’t need to travel far — either you can do your job from home or complete your shift on campus. 

Additionally, MSU jobs can also be up your alley if it relates to something you’re passionate about. Whether it’s running a first-year mentorship program, editing for the student newspaper or running a food bank — there is plenty of space for you to pursue your interests.

However, it’s important to note that many of these jobs are contract jobs. While you can get a part-time job at Union Market or TwelvEighty Bar & Grill where you work on an hourly basis, a lot of MSU jobs state a range of hours in its contract. For example, the Student Health Education Centre Coordinator’s job contract says that they will work 10-12 hours a week, whereas the Women and Gender Equity Network Coordinator works 14-16 hours a week. However, despite what the contract says, many student employees find themselves working overtime — for free.

Students overworking their contracted hours are especially noticeable within the peer support services. For example, the Student Health Education Centre coordinator wrote in their Oct. 8 Executive Board report that they work 25-40 hours a week instead of their contracted 10-12. They then explained in their Nov. 5 report that although they have been logging their hours, they will not gain approval for many of them because then they would be considered a full-time employee. 

The Pride Community Centre, Women and Gender Equity Network and Maccess coordinators also wrote similar concerns in their reports. All of the coordinators highlighted the issue of having to pre-approve overtime hours with the vice-president (administration) that may not even be approved. This is difficult to do, considering that many tasks and meetings pop up that are hard to anticipate in advance. 

Students overworking their contracted hours is especially noticeable within the peer support services. For example, the Student Health Education Centre coordinator wrote in their Oct. 8 Executive Board report that they work 25-40 hours a week instead of their contracted 10-12.

Many of these part-time managers are then left to decide whether to fulfill tasks of their role adequately and work overtime or work their hours but not complete the tasks they need to do in their role.

The Maccess, SHEC and PCC coordinators have also highlighted that they are the only paid staff members of their service, so when a volunteer executive cannot complete their work, they often have to take over the role. The reports highlight that volunteer executives often work well above their hours in addition to being unpaid, so it seems unfair to task them with even more work than they currently do. As a result, the extra hours of work fall onto the paid part-time manager.

This is a systemic issue within the MSU. By forcing undergraduate students to overwork their contracted hours, we are telling students that to do a good job at your role, you have to work over your expected hours. That you have to do unpaid work to be a good MSU employee. Because of this implied expectation, low-income students are often barred from MSU jobs. 

You can even take the Silhouette as an example. The Sil’s section editors, like myself, are paid for 10-12 hours per week. But oftentimes, we work a lot longer than that. Last year when I and a few other editors logged our hours, we worked upwards of 15-20 hours per week on average. This is because in a week, we have to attend three to four meetings, find contributors to write for our section, write our own articles, edit anywhere from three to six articles, correspond with contributors, provide our contributors feedback and layout two articles. Sometimes, issues or complaints can pop up as well that we have to deal with.

Our workload is often impossible to complete within 12 hours — 12 hours per week is less than two hours of work each day! If we don’t do extra hours, though, we simply wouldn’t be able to publish the amount of content we do currently. The same goes for many other roles in the MSU — if you don’t work extra, you likely won’t finish the tasks you need to do for that week. But because we do so much extra work, low-income students are less likely to hold these jobs because they can probably find a job that doesn’t overwork them. As a result, students who are okay with doing a little bit extra for their job are the ones who end up in these MSU roles.

Our workload is often impossible to complete within 12 hours — 12 hours per week is less than two hours of work each day! If we don’t do extra hours, though, we simply wouldn’t be able to publish the amount of content we do currently.

If only privileged students can afford to be part of the MSU, there is an inherent lack of representation in the MSU — the student union that is supposed to represent all undergraduate students. The MSU relies on our ability to “put in the extra work” and if you aren’t able to do that, they’ll find someone else to hire. 

What’s worse is to be a competitive applicant for an MSU job, you often have to volunteer and do a lot of unpaid labour to appear more qualified. For many paid positions in the MSU, it is an asset to have volunteered or contributed to that service in the past. With the Sil specifically, it is an asset to have written or volunteered with the Silhouette if you want to be considered for a paid role because it shows that you have an understanding and passion for the Silhouette.

However, because volunteering is looked highly upon when applying for a paid role, people who have the ability to spend time volunteering — instead of working — have an upper hand in the job application process.

It’s clear that this is a systemic problem within the MSU. The MSU is something that should serve all of us. I’m lucky enough to be able to hold a paid role in the MSU, but I still find that time after time, the MSU has harmed me and many others because the “higher-ups” tend to be upper-class, privileged, white and overall, out of tune with the rest of the student body.

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