“Some validity” to VSM lobby – MAWSA presidentPosted: September 13, 2009
A prominent member of the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations says student unions need to come clean with their constituencies – or risk losing them altogether.
Massey Wellington Students’ Association president Alex Sorenson said Tuesday that Roger Douglas’ Education (Freedom Of Association) Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, raises important issues of accountability and good faith.
Douglas’ bill seeks to usher in a de riguer system of voluntary student membership, requiring all student unions to hold annual membership drives to receive their levies.
Under the current law, unions with compulsory membership can collect levies automatically as part of students’ enrolment fees.
Proponents of voluntary membership say it will uphold the individual’s right to freedom of association, but critics say the bill will leave student unions crippled by financial insecurity.
MAWSA would be especially vulnerable, Sorenson said: should the bill pass, the association would have just enough cash reserves to cover a year’s worth of operational costs before disbanding.
But while Sorenson acknowledged that it was a “touchy” subject for unions, she said the argument for voluntary student membership had some validity.
“One of the arguments is that people are being forced to fund political activities that don’t reflect their own views, and there are some instances of students’ associations in the country who do that.”
Sorenson declined to mention specific cases but alluded to Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association, saying that she was “not going to lobby the Workers’ Party on the war in Iraq”.
“The only time I think student levies should fund lobbying activity is when it is looking at better outcomes for students: interest-free student loans, universal allowance, scholarships and training incentives, not ‘do we support Labour or do we support National?’.”
Unions should concentrate on monitoring education and welfare, she said, and needed to make it easier for students to withdraw membership.
Under the Education Act an association can exempt any student from membership on the grounds of conscientious objection, however many associations’ constitutions require written submissions or appearances before a panel before exemptions are granted.
Sorenson said the onus was on associations to inform members of their options.
“The legislation clearly states that students can conscientiously object, however I think student associations… should be stating in their pamphlets that you can actually do this.
“It’s not something that we advertise”, she said.