Grad students’ pay hike ‘timely’
By Colleen MacPherson
A salary increase for graduate students employed in jobs like teaching assistant, lab demonstrator and research assistant is “very timely” as part of the University’s effort to address their concerns in a number of areas, according to the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Research.
Tom Wishart said the U of S has been building “lines of discussion to engage grad students in matters not just about salary, but about working conditions and other issues as well”. That said, the students have not had a pay raise in about three years, he added, so the six-per-cent increase approved by the Board of Governors Sept. 30 is appropriate.
With the increase, expected to be in place in October, the hourly wage rate moves to $15.51 per hour from $14.63. Wishart said this places U of S grad students “in about the middle” compared to pay for students in similar jobs at other universities, particularly those in western Canada.
“We don’t want to be at the bottom,” he said. “We would like to be at the top but there are financial considerations.”
Wishart went on to explain the increase follows the appointment in the spring of a staff member in the Human Resources Division (HRD) to handle concerns raised by grad students. The students “have never before had anybody they could go to” to discuss issues like working conditions so that was “a big step”.
The other effort underway is the development of a template for defining working conditions, hours of work and responsibilities, he said, “but it’s not one size fits all. We have to have something that’s generic enough that departments and supervisors can take it and adjust it according to need, and I’m not sure we’re exactly there yet.” In the absence of an approved template, Wishart and a graduate student he works with in the Psychology department simply met to draw up an agreement on how best to use the student’s hours.
For Barb Daigle, Associate Vice-President of Human Resources, the pay increase is consistent with the University’s stated goal of becoming a major player in graduate education in Canada. “The University is pleased with this outcome and with the progress we’ve made in addressing all the concerns of our graduate students,” she said. “Recruiting and retaining top-quality students continues to be our objective and offering competitive rates of pay will reflect positively on that effort.”
Daigle said the cost implications of the rate hike for the University are about $150,000 annually.
For the president of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), which represents about 1,900 students, the pay hike “was a pleasant surprise”. Jon Anuik said some students suspect the increase “was due to the momentum of the previous union drives . . . (but) pay was not the primary issue in the last union drive” which took place in the spring. In that case, the major issue was working hours. Anuik said a teaching assistant hired for 4.5 hours per week per class might end up putting in more than that when, for example, term papers need to be marked. Students were “inevitably working more” but not being paid, he said. This situation would be addressed with a template like that described by Wishart.
Anuik said students lobbying for unionization were also expressing the “need for some sort of contact person in HRD to talk to confidentially about labour relations issues”. That situation was resolved when labour analyst Wade Epp was made the HRD grad student contract.
As to whether the progress made so far on grad student concerns will affect future unionization efforts, Aniuk was unsure, adding the GSA takes no position on attempts by students to form unions. When asked whether the new pay rate would entice students to the U of S, Anuik’s reply was that it “wouldn’t hurt. Wages are definitely an incentive but they’re just one part of a number of means used by the University and senior administration to ensure it is meeting its goal of bringing in more grad students.” He warned however, that more graduate students will put pressure on the University to provide adequate residence, office and lab space on campus.