RAs who stayed in their residential colleges for the lockdown are now receiving $20 more per week than RAs who left their residential colleges.
The $140 pay-out was announced following the outrage from RAs who remained in their colleges for lockdown and were ineligible for a fee rebate. A group of RAs who stayed in their college spoke to Critic about this controversy. The RAs, who were ineligible for the $120 rebate, felt that they were doing much more work with very little recognition.
The University chose not to comment on this story, but confirmed that the values of the residential fees rebate and the pay-out to RAs who stayed in their colleges were correct.
The residential college fees rebate
On April 7, residents at university-owned colleges were emailed the announcement of the residential fee rebate. In this email, the University stated that they were “committed to passing on to residents who have gone home the direct cost savings being achieved by the Colleges as a result of the current lockdown situation”.
The estimated cost of those savings was $120 per week. The $120 was credited to each resident’s college account to be used against future costs. The sum would be “multiplied by the number of weeks each student is unable to return to his or her College this Semester,” the email stated.
The rebate applied only to the residents “who have gone home”. This included RAs who went home.
The email announcing the rebate was sent to RAs as well as residents on April 7. The University did not provide any clarification to RAs about whether the rebate would apply to them. OUSA Residential Representative Jack Saunders then confirmed that the rebate did apply to RAs who had left their residential colleges.
RAs who remained in their residential colleges assumed that the email would apply to their colleagues who left for the lockdown. That would mean their colleagues were receiving $120 credit on top of their full pay. The RAs who stayed were not receiving any payment from the University on top of their wages.
Jack confirmed that a “group of RAs who remained feel that the University hasn’t taken them into account when allocating the fees rebate, as RAs who went home and are theoretically working less are being paid the additional $120 on top of their base salary.”
“Not once has anyone reached out to us to ask for our opinion,” one RA told Critic at the time. They believed the University was “not thinking about the people who were affected by their decisions”.
All RAs continue to be paid by the University, whether they stayed in their residential college or not. Their wages cover the residential college fees. The RAs said that their colleagues who left their jobs would be paid the rebate on top of their wages, effectively making a windfall of $120 per week. An RA described this as “double-dipping”.
They confirmed that their colleagues were able to do some work from home, but without being physically present it would be difficult for them to provide pastoral care. “Realistically they can do some work from home but it’s not more than about four hours,” said one RA. RAs at university-owned colleges are paid for 38 hours per fortnight.
Jack confirmed that most RAs who left “are unable to [work the full 38 hours] due to the hands-on nature of the RA work”.
“All we want is some advocacy, we just want someone to realise that we are being fucked over,” an RA told Critic.
The extra work
RAs who stayed in their residential colleges said that “pastoral care” responsibilities had become almost unmanageable as a result of Covid-19. The extra work added to their concerns about the RAs who left receiving the rebate.
“The rest of us RAs who have chosen to stay here are now working extra to cover their shifts, and getting absolutely no recognition for that,” an RA said.
The transition into Alert Level Four was difficult for RAs. “It's hard, it's just draining and we're only a few weeks into this,” said an RA. “We’re expected to be always happy, we’re expected to be role models, but it’s really hard when we’re not being taken care of by the University.”
One RA described a student coming to her on the first day of the lockdown having a panic attack. “We don't get to go through it like every other person has. We have to put other people before ourselves.”
There was pressure to occupy the residents, who were anxious about the situation and bored. “The [college management] insisted that we come up with activities to do with the group every single day,” an RA said. “In a normal situation, we would not be doing that.”
A central concern was that RAs have to police the ‘bubbles’ that the students are in, which has been unmanageable at times. “Our main job description is pastoral care,” said one RA. “That does not involve going around and telling people that they have to get 2 metres apart. That is a security job.”
“That just dampens the mood and it reminds them that it's a shitty time and they can't escape it.” The RAs felt that there was conflict between their roles in terms of keeping students happy and policing the bubbles.
The pay-out for RAs who did not leave
The University has now decided to credit RAs who stayed in their colleges with $140 per week of Alert Level Four.
The RAs who stayed in their colleges talked to OUSA Residential Representative, Jack Saunders, about their problems and they believe that led to a resolution with the University. They are “humbled” by the new decision to pay them $140 per week, and said that pastoral care has become easier as students have adjusted to the lockdown.
“We are glad that the University has reached out to us and thanked us,” said one of the RAs who spoke to Critic when the rebate was announced. “It was far more than we ever expected.”
The news of the $120 rebate came at a time when RAs were facing increased workloads due to the lockdown. They feel that now their workloads have returned to normal levels as students have adjusted. “The students have been really respectful of us and the rules, even though at first they were annoyed at how strict they were, they have now come to realise how important it is.”
RAs who stayed will now receive $20 more per week than their colleagues who left, but only for the period of Level Four. According to the email, the residential fees rebate will continue for RAs who left their colleges for as long as they are away and not using the college’s services. It is unclear whether the University will continue the payment for RAs who stayed on that basis.