Following various technical issues with Workday, McGill’s new human resources (HR) system, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) has filed several individual, union, and collective grievances against the university in accordance with their Collective Agreement (CA). Some problems included lack of access to technology necessary to teach classes, incomplete or stalled hiring, payment in the form of cheques rather than direct deposit, and most notably, late payments to teaching assistants (TAs).
On Oct. 30, McGill Student Accounts and HR offered temporary relief measures for those experiencing financial difficulties resulting from the Workday issues. This included automatically deferring unpaid tuition balances without interest until January 2021, reversing interest charges on late Fall 2020 tuition fees, and offering an additional $1,500 in loans also to be repaid by January 2021.
The Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) University Affairs Commissioner Kristi Kouchakji explained how HR’s decision to issue the loans without conferring with the union initially sparked confusion among those who received them.
“We had no idea that HR had decided to administer it as an opt-out with no up-front communication until we started hearing (understandably) confused, and in some cases angry, feedback from members,” Kouchakji wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune.
Kiersten van Vliet, who served as the president of AGSEM until the end of Nov. 2020, expressed her concerns regarding McGill’s HR slow response, despite the fact that they have acknowledged AGSEM’s grievances.
“For some context, even this late into the semester, there are TAs almost finished their contracts who are still not ‘hired’ in Workday—and consequently have not received a single paycheque,” van Vliet wrote. “HR has repeatedly missed their own deadlines for resolving the pay issues—late October has become late November and beyond. We’re already into hiring for next semester and they haven’t yet ‘hired’ some of the TAs this semester. We anticipate many of the same hiring issues again in Winter because the fundamental problems with the Workday system itself have not yet been resolved.”
In response to McGill’s violation of the CA, AGSEM filed several grievances claiming late fees and interest equivalent to what McGill charges for late tuition payments. McGill is currently working through each grievance and AGSEM is still awaiting settlement offers from the administration.
Frédérique Mazerolle, McGill’s Media Relations Officer, stressed that the university is working closely with both AGSEM and PGSS to resolve any outstanding Workday issues.
“Each case is handled individually,” Mazerolle wrote. “Depending on the nature of the problem, communications were initiated with the administrator or the employee or both. In the weeks to come, more robust user support tools and renewed training will be implemented to support units through the next wave of hiring.”
Despite frustrations with Workday, Grish Balaji, a TA in McGill’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was impressed by the many departments that quickly took action to remedy the issue, and after careful consideration, is still planning on working as a TA next semester.
“[Teaching assistants] plan our budget[s] based on the income we receive,” Balaji wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “To know that there were delays in payment because the records were not properly processed from McGill’s side breaks the hopes and inner peace of every TA. I have friends complaining about having to work outside campus even though they’re a TA at McGill because McGill hasn’t processed their records/payments.”
The new TA Collective Agreement was ratified in September 2020 and will be signed by mid-December. After that, McGill has 90 days to process retroactive TA raises won in negotiations, which AGSEM says it will be closely monitoring. The PGSS has released a comprehensive survey on graduate student funding and living, learning, and working conditions in order to better address constituent needs.
A previous version of this article stated that HR’s decision to issue cheques sparked confusion, when in fact, it was the loans that sparked confusion. The article has been updated. The Tribune regrets this error.