“World Class” University of Nottingham should do the right thing and pay the Living Wage say campaigners
An alliance of trade unions, student organisations and other campaign groups has called on the new University of Nottingham (UoN) Vice Chancellor Professor Shearer West to do the right thing and officially commit the university to paying the Living Wage to all its staff.
Last week [Tuesday 14 November 2017] demonstrators brandishing mops, buckets and brushes held a “clean-in” demonstration to show solidarity with the hundreds of university workers, including cleaners and catering and estates staff, they say are being “underpaid and undervalued”.
The Nottingham University Living Wage Campaign (made up of trade unions UCU, Unison and Unite, together with Nottingham Citizens, Nottingham University Labour Students, UoN Feminists, Socialists Students Nottingham, Young Greens and UoN Left Society) says that hundreds of university employees are struggling to live on pay levels below the “real” Living Wage rate of £8.75 an hour (or around £17,000 per year). This hourly rate is set independently and updated annually each November by the Living Wage Foundation and is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. It is the minimum that employees need to get by and considerably higher than the statutory National Living Wage rate of £7.50 an hour (which only applies to those aged 25 and over).
One cleaner explained how she is struggling to make ends meet as a result of being paid less than the Living Wage:
“My wages here just cover my Council Tax and rent. I’m paid on Thursdays at the end of the month, by Saturday I am already overdrawn again. I cut down on all bills as much as possible, I use the car only to go to work, all my expenses have to be tightly calculated. I depend on bargains when shopping for clothes and food, things on half-price, the sales. I don’t go out, I simply can’t afford to go out.”
Campaigners estimate that the maximum cost to the university in raising the pay of all its staff to at least the £8.75 an hour Living Wage rate would be about £1 million in the current financial year. This represents less than 6% of its £18 million surplus (in 2016) and around 0.3% of the total amount spent on staffing (£324 million in 2016).
The campaigners believe that signing up UoN as an accredited Living Wage employer could be massively influential in promoting the Living Wage both locally and across the Higher Education sector.
“The University of Nottingham prides itself on being a World Class University, a member of the “elite” Russell Group and one of the most popular universities in the country for student admissions,” said Nottingham University Living Wage Campaign member and UCU UoN Vice President Andreas Bieler. “The quality of education is closely linked to fair working conditions of members of staff. But despite paying the previous Vice Chancellor a basic salary of £295,000 and holding a surplus of £18 million in the financial year ending 31 July 2016, the University has failed to commit to paying all its staff a Living Wage. We are calling on the new Vice Chancellor, Professor Shearer West, to do the right thing and make a commitment for the university to become an accredited Living Wage employer today.”
According to Shearer, UoN “paid the equivalent of the Voluntary Living Wage in the 2016/17 pay round and has every intention of doing so again in the 2017/18 pay round”. But the campaigners point out that because the Living Wage is re-calculated every November to take into account rising living costs and inflation, the cleaners’ wage is below living standards for nine months of the year.
Following the demonstration Shearer, UoN’s first female vice chancellor, confirmed that she will meet with some of the cleaning staff. The campaigners believe that signing up UoN as an accredited Living Wage employer could be massively influential in promoting the Living Wage both locally and across the Higher Education sector.
For more information about the Living Wage campaign across the UK see www.livingwage.org.uk