University comes under pressure to implement living wage

The following is an article provided by Palatinate.

Earlier this month Josephine Butler became the latest college to support a Living Wage for University employees, as part of an ongoing campaign to encourage Durham University to pay all staff the rate.

The Living Wage is calculated by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, based on what is needed for a household to have a minimum acceptable standard of living.

Durham UniversityOn 2 November it rose to £8.25 from £7.85 outside London. It is different to the National Living Wage, which was announced by George Osborne in July and will be £7.20 from next April, rising to £9 by 2020.

Paul Gape, who introduced the motion at Butler’s JCR meeting on 1 November, told Palatinate that the living wage at Durham “would ensure that all University staff could enjoy a reasonable quality of life.”

He said he wanted Durham “to be more of a progressive institution on issues such as this.” The motion stated: “This JCR believes that as a leading academic institution, Durham University must strive to be a responsible employer in the County Durham region.

The current discrepancy in wage between the highest and lowest paid University staff members is unjustifiably high.”

It continued: “Every employee of the University should be treated with dignity and respect, and should be paid accordingly. A Living Wage… will reduce poverty, household debt, stress and illness and improve family life.”

The fourth-year said it passed with “essentially no reaction.” He told Palatinate: “I think there are valid criticisms of the living wage so for the sake of rigour it might have been good if these were raised at the meeting and then could have been discussed, generally to raise the standard of the debate.”

Palatinate spoke to Harry Cross, a member of the Durham University Campaign for the Living Wage (DUCLW).

“The University claims to be an asset to the local region which is one of the more deprived in the country,” he said. Cross stated: “Durham Geography Professor Ray Hudson co-authored a paper in 2012 arguing that one of the most important ways in which universities can support disadvantaged areas is by paying local staff a Living Wage. It is frustrating that he did not act on this when he was acting Vice-Chancellor last year, but his arguments still hold.”

Cross, who is also co-chair of Durham Students for University Reform, claimed: “There is a real hope that the arrival of a new Vice-Chancellor will provide an opening for Durham University to change its policies on a number of issues.”

He argued that students generally support the campaign. “We send members to JCR meetings with arguments explaining the rationale behind the Living Wage Campaign. However, we invariably meet a receptive audience so there is not much persuasion that needs to be done.

“Students in colleges are in constant contact with their cleaning staff who are invariably friendly and helpful. Students therefore feel strongly that these staff members should receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

DUCLW claim that the only colleges yet to have passed resolutions supporting the Living Wage are Collingwood and Van Mildert.

When asked about whether college motions really have an impact on University policy, Cross said that this “forces the University to address the issue… passing motions in official bodies gives our campaign official recognition.”

As for the future plans of the group, Cross said that once all the JCR’s have signed up, the campaign will “once again formally submit our case to the Vice-Chancellor and the relative bodies governing pay in the University.”

“If there is no concrete response or an unfavourable reply we will seek to step up the campaign next term,” he said.

Figures released by the trade union Unison in December 2013, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, showed that Durham had 597 staff earning under what was then the Living Wage, despite underspending by £4.5 million in their staffing budget.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that at Durham 67 members of staff earn over £100,000 a year, while five earn more than the Prime Minister (£142,000). This information was obtained by the Taxpayers Alliance through Freedom of Information requests.

Discussing their activity on campus in Durham, the University’s Unison branch spoke to Palatinate. 

“The trade union ran a Living Wage campaign in 2012, has fought for the Living Wage in all pay negotiations and strike activities and were very grateful to the students who joined us on the picket lines.

“Along with the other campus trade unions, we are negotiating for Living Wage accreditation at Durham University and would welcome support from our students in any future activities.”

The student campaign for the University to pay the Living Wage is not new. In 2013 Durham Students’ Union agreed to join the NUS in their Living Wage campaign.

Last year the then-President of the DSU, Dan Slavin, sent a letter to Acting Vice-Chancellor, Ray Hudson, asking the University to pay the Living Wage. Slavin wrote: “some of the University’s lowest paid workers are the most valued by our students; with the domestic staff often cited as a key part of the college community.”

Luke Whiting, Co-Secretary of Durham University Labour Club, agreed that the University should pay the Living Wage. He told Palatinate: “For a university as prestigious and wealthy as Durham to pay some of its employees, without whom the University simply couldn’t function, too little to have an acceptable quality of life is utterly reprehensible.”

Whiting claimed that members of the Labour Club “have been integral to the work of DUCLW in campaigning for a living wage” and that the Club is “raising awareness of the problem by mobilising support in colleges, working within the framework of Durham University Students for University Reform and engaging with trade unions.”

However, Rhys Tanner, President of Durham University Conservative Association, said he would not participate in the campaign to introduce a Living Wage at the University. He told Palatinate: “It’s important to give the University appropriate time to make the relevant changes and savings to their budget in order to afford the rightly-deserved wage increases for employees.”

Jamie Penson Raja, President of Durham Young Greens, said: “Durham University, as a world-class university, should most certainly pay the Living Wage.”

He said that the Young Greens were not planning a specific campaign on the issue, as it is currently focused on fossil fuel divestment. However, the group “would be very willing to work alongside other student groups within the Durham Left” on the issue.

Photograph: Venus Loi