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O-Week volunteers take on work of former paid casuals

Michael Rees investigates the decline in paid student positions during O-Week.

o-week-2014

The University of Sydney Union has significantly reduced the number of paid casual staff hired during O-Week, while increasing the number of unpaid volunteers.

In 2013, 49 casual staff were employed to assist with USU O-Week operations. During this year’s O-Week, however, only 32 paid casuals were hired. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of unpaid ‘V-Team’ O-Week volunteers increased from 45 to 60.

Casual staff employed during O-Week in 2013 have confirmed that they performed duties including controlling queues, collecting printed ACCESS cards and spruiking ACCESS cards. Several ‘V-Team’ volunteers at this year’s O-Week performed similar or identical tasks.

According to Louisa Stylian, Marketing and Communications Manager of the USU, 2014 V-Team volunteers were “engaged to distribute member bags, direct students to the ACCESS tent and photograph O-Week activity.” These tasks often involved long periods of standing on Eastern Avenue and were performed in the rain throughout the latter part of the week.

Volunteers also participated in at least two training days before O-Week. V-Team leaders attended an additional leadership training session.

One long-term USU casual staff member stated that it was “completely unacceptable to not pay students for the work they do in contributing to O-Week revenue.” Additionally, they said that “Board Directors and staff should be well aware of the difficulties students face in casual employment”, and that “the USU ought to set a higher standard in its own casual employment practices”.

Casual staff employed during this year’s O-Week were largely allocated to point of sale roles and spent most of their time processing ACCESS card purchases.

Stylian said that two factors contributed to the decision to cut casual staff numbers for O-Week 2014.

“Last year [the USU] overstaffed the tent,” she said. Additionally, she noted that the USU had “changed the ACCESS card sales strategy this year” to continue “selling throughout the enrolment period and during Week 1 and 2.”

The V-Team was officially launched by the USU at the end of 2012. It is a group of student volunteers which now comprises more than 400 members. All members are required to be ACCESS card holders and students at Sydney University. Following a call-out in October 2013, 60 of these individuals agreed to assist with O-Week operations.

The USU said that “The V Team is managed using strict criteria, which distinguishes their role and duties from paid staff.” This is to ensure that volunteers “gain valuable skills, and most importantly, have fun along the way.”

The O-Week budget for 2014 was not reduced from 2013 levels.