Hundreds of UoN staff this winter will have struggled to heat their homes and pay for Christmas. These are staff we come into contact with every day; they serve us coffee in Hallward, lunch in Portland, and willfully wade through our mess when cleaning rooms in halls. The University has decided that these vital staff are not worth a wage that enables them to live free of working poverty.
A Living Wage would make a tangible difference; all could support themselves and their families without being forced to rely on payday loans or food banks, as reports from Unison campus representatives have suggested some do. It would also help relieve the chronic worry and stress that comes from trying to make ends meet.
“The building of a £20 million De Vere hotel on campus appears a higher priority than fair pay for its employees.”
The University can afford this. In 2012, UoN’s budget surplus for the year was £24 million, but the building of a £20 million De Vere hotel on campus appears a higher priority than fair pay for its employees. In 2012 Vice-chancellor David Greenaway was awarded £331,000, while for many of the lowest paid at our University living costs are rising and their real wages falling.
The Living Wage could benefit the University in general. An independent study examining the benefits of the Living Wage found that it reduced absenteeism by 25%, and 75% of employers reported an increase in the quality of their employees’ work. The University has a chance to show it is a responsible, ethical employer.
“An elite institution like UoN should be taking the lead in this important debate.”
At the heart of the Living Wage is a new way of thinking about employment: employers have a duty to pay their staff not just the minimum they can get away with, but a wage that actually reflects living costs. An elite institution like UoN should be taking the lead in this important debate. It should be proud to stand up and say that it supports its staff and the communities they live in. At the moment, it belongs to club of just five UK universities that employ more than 500 staff below a Living Wage. As students we should stand with the lowest paid on our campus and demand a better deal.
Artificially inflating wages could be deeply harmful to the very people we want to help, and even to students.
There are stark wage disparities at UoN, but despite the claims of many on the Left, this wage disparity is not a personal attack or an ideological stance. David Greenaway’s salary is justified by the fact that he could command a similarly high wage at another organisation. Without his high salary, his skill-set would lead him elsewhere.
“If the Living Wage were applied on a national scale, the results could be disastrous.”
In the face of a higher wage floor, those employees who are already earning the Living Wage will demand a proportionate pay rise. This sparks an upward-spiral. UoN would face a university-wide increase in salaries, and a significant dent in funds which are vital for investing in important research and the future of students.
If the Living Wage were applied on a national scale, the results could be disastrous. In seeking to meet the costs of higher wages, companies will increase the price of consumer goods, reduce shifts, and cut jobs. Research undertaken by the IPPR/Resolution Foundation predicts 160,000 job losses if the Living Wage were to be introduced in the UK, which is a 0.5% reduction in employment. Many of these jobs will be for people with low-skills: often students, and those struggling at the very bottom.
“It is unlikely that we will be able to implement even a means-tested Living Wage without a wage and price spiral.”
It is unlikely that we will be able to implement even a means-tested Living Wage without a wage and price spiral. Instead, workers improving their skills and demanding higher wages in better jobs is a credible alternative which does not involve calamitous meddling with the nature of the market.
Image: Martin Sylvester