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May 14, 2018 | by  | in News Splash |
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How Much Are Our RAs Getting Paid?

RAs have expressed that they are dissatisfied with their pay and think the University should compensate them more, considering the importance of their role in introducing first year students to Victoria. Residential Advisors working in the halls of residence directly operated by Victoria University are paid between $18.12 and $18.49 per hour. Contracts that RAs sign prior to their employment state that they will be rostered to work 30 hours over a fortnight period, amounting to roughly 15 hours per week.

RAs at University-catered halls are charged $369 per week in rent. This does, however, include services such as power, internet, and food. According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the median market rent for a single bedroom is $240 per week in the Te Aro suburb of Wellington — where the majority of Victoria halls of residence are located. $18.49 per hour, at 15 hours per week, amounts to $277.35 per week in wages. RAs are therefore being charged $91.65 per week to live in halls and do their jobs.
Jackson, an RA, said he was “not entirely happy with the amount we’re paid in relation to our importance”.

“On one hand I am happy with it personally as it’s the first job where I’ve been paid above minimum wage, and as we are essentially getting paid to sleep at times, it seems like a pretty good deal. But on the other hand, the RA role is indispensable to hall life, and we are sometimes called upon to do things that I would see as above our paygrade.”
Ilsa, an RA in 2017, said that the halls were very unprepared for the issues they were going to experience. “We had no systems to follow or guidelines for how to deal with mental health emergencies or violence. The halls are more focussed on avoiding bad press than protecting and caring for their residents and staff.”
She thought that the training RAs received did not adequately prepare them for the scope of the role. She also described the management of her hall as unprepared — “The staff and students suffer due to the incompetence of the upper management”.
“For example, I was left dealing with a young resident, who was dealing with years of emotional abuse and depression, on my own. This resident had attached to me (contacting me via FB at all hours begging for my help) and my managers offered zero support. The other RAs had no idea how to deal with this situation.”

Jackson indicated after entering his actual working hours into HR Kiosk (the payroll system used by VUW), he was instructed by his head of hall to fabricate his hours. He said that he was not necessarily underpaid for the amount of hours he worked each week, it often depended week to week. He added however that “more than anything it just frustrates me that if you put in your exact hours then it’s technically being dishonest, and just a really backwards system”.

“We end up entering arbitrary hours that we have worked. Half the time I don’t understand it myself, which is a frustrating thing for a lot of us. They messed up the contracts by promising 30 hours, which not really how the RA role works. You get paid for when you are on shift but you are working all the time really.”
Jackson said that the process in which RAs has to apply to get paid is “very complicated”. If RAs at this particular university-operated hall did not fulfill the 30 hours of work per fortnight as indicated in their contracts, the money is deducted from their pay in the next fortnightly period.

He noted that RAs at this hall were unable to receive the full accommodation supplement, provided by Studylink, until they have completed three months on their contracts. It is unclear if this is the case at other university-operated halls, but information from Victoria University did not indicate otherwise. He compared it to the 90 day trial policy, adding, “it’s really stupid, a lot of it seems really arbitrary to me”.

Jackson added that in 2018 his hall had taken away perks such as having free bread and milk in the kitchen for RAs. “That’s a minor thing but it would save me from going to the supermarket each week. It’s just little things like that.” He said that RAs were told they would have the opportunity to negotiate for the return of these benefits. However, he is not satisfied. “It was the status quo for so long, why do we now have to renegotiate that now?”
Salient also spoke to a past RA, Sean, at Otago, who indicated that the culture was very similar at Otago. Sean described the treatment of RAs in his hall as “disrespectful”.

“It states in our contract that we will be paid for 17 hours, however there may be periods were we are required to work longer hours.” During particularly busy periods such as exam time and organising for the ball, he said it was quite apparent that overtime would be inevitable. Some of the other RAs at Sean’s hall began recording the actual hours they worked and reporting them to hall management, for which they received “quite a lot of flak from the deputy head of hall”. He recalled that being paid for overtime was uncommon. However, if RAs had to clean up vomit, they did receive an extra $8.

Salient asked VUWSA President Marlon Drake if RAs should be more fairly compensated for their job. He confirmed that “for a role with such large responsibility I’d be inclined to say yes,” but clarified VUWSA could not necessarily endorse higher financial compensation for RAs. He added that RAs have an absolutely vital role in providing good pastoral care for our first year students. He said that VUWSA endorses the Living Wage organisation in their campaign for all Victoria University employees being paid a fair wage, but would not comment specifically on the pay rate of RAs.

“We want all of Victoria’s staff to be paid a living wage. When you are an RA you really have a 24 hour job, you live at your work, it’s definitely one of the most stressful jobs you could have. If RAs were to push for a living wage, I would support them.”

Rainsforth Dix, Director, Student and Campus Living at Victoria, said she was “not aware of any incidents of RAs being underpaid. Nor have I received any feedback about remuneration”. “The RA roles and remuneration decisions will be completed in time for the next recruitment round, which begins in trimester 2.” She added that the role of RAs was being reviewed by the University for 2019.

Names of RAs have been changed for anonymity

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