On Monday a group of York students launched a campaign for a ‘living wage’ to be paid to all university staff.
In 1999 the Labour government introduced the minimum wage – from 1 April all employers had to pay their workers at least £3.60 an hour. Many on the right of the political spectrum argued that doing so would cripple employment and thus actually disadvantage the workers it attempted to help. The policy is now, however, widely embraced.
Since its introduction the wage has risen by over 20% in real terms – it now stands at £6.08. Some, however, are clamouring for a ‘living wage’ of £7.20 to be paid nationwide. The National Union of Students and Unison, the largest public sector union, have jointly launched an initiative to ‘name and shame’ universities that do not pay it. They have given universities six months ‘to get their house in order’.
A recent Freedom of Information request found that 644 staff at York were paid less than the living wage in 2010/11. It has been estimated that the University of Cambridge employs over 1,000 people on less than it. The Centre for Research in Social Policy has argued that such a level of pay is necessary ‘to provide a minimum socially acceptable standard of living for low earners’.
The national campaign was announced at Unison’s Higher Education Conference earlier this week. On campus the campaign now has the backing of former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, and Richard Wilkinson, a prominent researcher on inequality.
Unison’s Head of Education, Jon Richards, highlighted how an agreement has been reached with the Association of Colleges to pay the wage to further education workers, and called for similar action for university workers. Richard Wilkinson, speaking at the UoY event, struck an optimistic note, saying, ‘I am quite sure you will win this’.
Dannie Grufferty, NUS Vice-President, said, ‘The difference between the minimum wage and a living wage is the difference between constant money worries and being able to make ends meet. It also makes sense for employers who’ll see a rise in productivity and greater retention of staff.’
Campaigners at the University of York expect to meet with senior management in the coming weeks to assess the proposal.