Many McGill students do not seem to hold Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives in high regard. In fact, one can easily find criticisms of these officials in student publications and on social media. What is more, the majority of students cannot even be bothered to vote in SSMU elections. Faced with these facts, it is only natural to start questioning the validity of a student-funded $30,000 annual salary for these apparently unpopular executives.
As students’ representatives to the McGill administration, however, SSMU executives carry a significant and crucial responsibility, one that comes with its fair share of work and stress. Any decrease of their salary would prove harmful for the health of the university’s student union, and disrespectful of the time and effort they put into their work. Being a SSMU executive is a full-time job, and therefore, it should be compensated as such.
On Feb. 3, 2016, McGill students voted “no” to a SSMU semesterly fee increase which was designed to, among other things, fund the salaries of SSMU executives. Ben Ger, the SSMU president at the time, lamented the outcome of the vote. According to Ger, his pay does not adequately reflect the sheer volume of work the job requires from him and his fellow executives, who are expected to work a standard 40-hour work week, but routinely work up to 90 hours per week. Juggling class and work, SSMU executives regularly find themselves paid well below the $12.50 Quebec minimum wage.
Individuals holding official positions in student unions across the country are unequivocally overworked to a damaging extent. Additionally, executives frequently find themselves the recipients of criticism from the student body, which can be equally harmful. In October of last year, then–Vice-President (External Affairs) Marina Cupido resigned due to mental health concerns. Beyond McGill, the University of Toronto Students’ Union Vice-President External resigned last year over ‘mental trauma’ caused by an allegedly ‘toxic’ work environment. Similarly, the Concordia Student Union has expressed concern about their employees’ psychological well being, and are considering adopting extra measures to address mental health within the union.
The insufficient salary of SSMU executives also hinders accessibility to students who wish to participate in student governance but do not have the means to do so. Indeed, students at the school pay some of the highest residence fees in the country. Many of them are also experiencing the financial pressure that comes with living alone for the first time. For these students, a mediocre salary, coupled with the stress of long hours, becomes a barrier to participation in student government.
Despite the crushing pressure of their jobs and the endless tides of complaints directed against them, SSMU executives often prove to be fantastically productive. Annually, The McGill Tribune publishes a review detailing every acting SSMU executive’s achievements during the previous year, and the list is invariably extensive. The first floor of McLennan library is open 24 hours per day thanks to SSMU. Activity Nights and Frosh both exist as results of SSMU initiatives. This isn’t to say that the executives are perfect, a quick scroll through Reddit’s /r/McGill forum will give the reader a detailed description of SSMU’s flaws. But then again, no elected public representative can escape the criticism of those they represent. In a functional democracy, one could argue that it is precisely the elector’s role to keep the elected in check.
SSMU executives’ low salary is indicative of a larger issue of undervalued labour on campus. Services such as Walksafe, the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Student Society (SACOMSS), Nightline, and the Peer Support Centre do indispensable work, and are not nearly close to being compensated enough for their emotional labour. Students are forced to choose between extracurricular opportunities and financing their degrees; therefore, these opportunities must become more accessible.
Listening to McGill students’ persistent criticism of SSMU executives, one might be surprised that they are paid anything at all for their labour. It is important to recognize, however, that these executives are faced with the severely demanding task of overseeing multiple aspects of student life, a responsibility that often comes at the cost of mental and financial stability. The modest annual salary of $30,000 given to SSMU executives is not nearly enough when one considers the significant sacrifices in time and effort they have made in service to McGill students.