Tab Meets: CUSU Living Wage Officer, Ben Bayley

JOE WHITWELL and HAZEL SHEARING talk King’s recent victory and their hopes for other colleges with the CUSU Living Wage officer.

CUSU interview JCR King's living wage protest vice-chancellor voting

What did you think when you got the news that King’s were going to introduce the living wage?

About time. They’ve been going at this for so long. They had a protest about it at an alumni dinner. All of their wealthiest donors – the forty top dogs, so to speak – came back to talk about how they give six figure sums to the college. The students asked, ‘Can we get our staff paid £7.65 an hour?’ and loads of them just said, ‘Yeah I’ll pay it, I don’t mind’.

Are those sorts of protests the best way to get stuff done? Boycotts, hijackings, etc.?

To be honest, loads of stuff has to happen before that. King’s, on a student level, were already miles ahead of other colleges. Now King’s had won over its JCR and managed to overturn student apathy. When that happens it is impressive how fast things can move. Already Trinity is on the move. Pembroke have passed a motion committing their JCR to it. There is progress in Newnham. Murray Edwards has signed up to it. All on the back of King’s.

CUSU getting serious about living wage

 

Some colleges say they offer a lot of benefits to their employees. Is this a valid defence?

When we hear that we want to know if it’s verifiable. If you ask employees if they are aware that they have free parking or if they use it, which is what we did in Queens’, they say, ‘what benefits?’. My experience so far is that at every college where staff members have been asked about their benefits, they just say it is bollocks.

What is the Vice-Chancellor’s position on the living wage?

That it’s unaffordable… Yeah, take a pay cut? Our Vice-Chancellor is getting £289,000 a year, which becomes about £334,000 a year with bonuses. That is 26 times the salary of someone on living wage. He has confirmed that 83 workers at the University aren’t on the living wage. Those employees include everyone who works in the faculties, the libraries and the labs, who the University could not function without, but who are largely, if not completely, invisible to the student body.

Students often don’t seem to connect with the campaign, often not respecting picket lines, for example. Why do you think this is?

I think there’s this general apathy towards CUSU. When you actually get out there and talk to students, they do care. They do give a sh*t if the people who clean their rooms are living in poverty. Most decent people find that pretty horrific. The challenge is using the individual college JCRs to start college campaigns and we face this obstruction from certain JCR officers.

Do you think some students fear that if their college introduces a living wage that they will indirectly have to pay for it?

The line of causality is nowhere near as simple as that. For most colleges to commit to [the living wage] for a year it would be under £10,000. Okay, it’s not nothing. But if you look at the pot of money and where it goes on different JCR activities, it’s not a question of what’s affordable and what’s unaffordable. It’s a question of priorities.

For things which are universally demanded by students like the living wage, colleges can’t turn around and say [they’re] going to jack up room rents. It leaves their moral credibility in tatters when people can demonstrate from college accounts that there’s money in other places. Why make choices between students who are crippled with debt and loans, and cleaners who you’re underpaying, when figures come out about how much they spend on wine?

Power to the people

Power to the people

 Is it possible college will raise wages but then cut jobs?

That’s an issue that’s been raised by students. No colleges have said that they would do that yet. They already employ only the very, very minimum that they need to do the job. Could they trim the fat? No. They’ve already trimmed it bare.

So you’ve got until November in this position, what do you think can be achieved?

We don’t see why we couldn’t double the number of colleges signing up. But it is a question of who’s being cooperative. The JCR environmental officers are mandated to do this by being part of CUSU, but they just don’t give a f**k. They’re so lazy, I don’t know what they do all day.

They just don’t reply. Individually, JCR reps can say ‘I don’t care about the living wage’, but they still have an obligation to inform the students of the campaign going on.

Contact [email protected] or [email protected] if you want to get involved with this campaign or have any sorts of questions for your Living Wage officer.