Negotiations between the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) and the university regarding the Guard.me insurance plan will continue in 2015 after both parties failed to reach a settlement in early December.
The TSSU filed a grievance on July 16, 2013, regarding the Guard.me health and dental insurance plan, in which every international student is automatically enrolled.
The Guard.me plan costs $336 per semester, over twice the amount of the previous insurance plan, which costed $126. The coverage is required for the three months of residency in Canada before international students may sign up for the BC Medical Services Plan (MSP).
The TSSU and university administration entered into an arbitration over December 4–5, resulting in no settlement.
Aspects of the plan that were most concerning to the TSSU include automatic re-enrolment, the fact that SFU chose the most expensive plan available, the overlap period in services with legally required MSP coverage, and the five per cent returned to SFU out of every fee collected.
TSSU chief steward Reagan Belan told The Peak, “The disclosure that we were given has a lot of truly damning information about the motivation for implementing Guard.me in the way that it was, and the glib attitude International Student Services [ISS] has toward imposing unnecessary fees on the students they are there to serve. It doesn’t paint SFU or ISS in a positive light.”
The university administration was unavailable to comment before press time.
Following the mediation, the TSSU published a post on their website saying that, “Despite TSSU’s best efforts to find a reasonable and affordable solution and avoid a public airing of SFU’s dirty laundry in a hearing, SFU has remained unwilling to find a fair solution to the Guard.me problem.”
“We were disappointed that we didn’t get to a resolution after two days of mediation,” Belan said, frustrated over the results of the arbitration.
“The disclosure that we were given has a lot of truly damning information about the motivation for implementing Guard.me.”
– Reagan Belan, TSSU, Chief Steward
“Our dispute over Guard.me has been ongoing for over two years and we want SFU to stop charging our members this illegitimate fee and start refunding our members as soon as possible,” she said.
Belan continued that SFU withheld 1,700 pages worth of internal Guard.me documents — thrice the amount the university claimed to have provided — until a week before the arbitration, leaving “almost no time to sort through a mountain of evidence.
She pointed to this as an example of how SFU is trying to “bury” the issue: “This is the behaviour of an institution that is trying to hide, not an institution that is willing to settle a dispute.”
Both parties are now awaiting recommendations from a mediator on how to resolve the issue.
If no settlement can be reached at that time, the TSSU intends to pursue a formal hearing in which each party would make their case and leave it in the hands of a neutral third party arbitrator.
“TSSU is firmly of the position that SFU should avoid inflicting further financial hardship to its international student population and not renew its contract with Guard.me when it comes to term in August of 2015,” Belan concluded, adding that the university should seek to “properly facilitate [student] enrolment into BC MSP.”