Surprise shocker as uni adopts living wage

Staff and campaigners alike are celebrating Cambridge’s decision to adopt the £7.65/hour living wage, featuring an exclusive interview with campaign head Ben Bayley

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Cambridge uni chiefs have now decided to pay all its staff at least the living wage, in a surprising but inspired policy U-turn.

All 138 directly employed staff previously earning below the living wage will pocket at least £7.65/hour from Friday. The higher wage is designed to ease the discomfort of increasing living costs.

Staff are not the only ones celebrating: living wage supporters herald this as a significant milestone in their campaign. Ben Bayley, who heads CUSU’s living wage campaign, told the Tab “It’s fantastic news! Ok, it’s long overdue, but fantastic all the same.”

He went on to reveal that he was “surprised” by the move, saying “it’s never how we imagined it.”

The VC – worth his weight in gold?

CULC told the Tab this was “a fantastic victory for the Living Wage campaign, something CULC is heavily involved with. It’s demonstrative of the fact that student political activism really can make a tangible difference – an important point to remember going into the General Election next year.

“However with the vast majority of colleges still refusing to pay their employees enough to live a decent life on, the hard work is far from over.”

A Freedom of Information request in January revealed that more than 1,000 staff employed by the University and colleges were paid under the living wage.

CUCA would not take a political position, but told the Tab “this must be welcome news for the employees affected.”

The move comes as a surprise after Vice Chancellor Borys slammed the idea at a student Q&A session recently. Adopting it for uni staff, he said, “would not change things one iota.” He refused to accept that Cambridge should shoulder responsibility for social change, which he holds “close to [his] heart.”

He did not agree that King’s decision to adopt the living wage was “wise,” using the excuse that “those who define the living wage are self-appointed; they are not constrained by statutory regulations.”

The rate is set annually by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University. Cambridge’s support adds considerable weight to the already growing living wage movement, as it joins LSE, UCL, the London Business School and Manchester University. However, the change will also conveniently deflect some criticism of VC Borys’ soaring salary, a hot topic at his Q&A session.


Surely not too much to ask

The Tab sat down with the head of CUSU’s living wage campaign, Ben Bayley, and heard what he had to say.

What are your thoughts on this change?

Firstly we don’t know how this move will affect the University’s outsourced staff, who work at the university but who are technically employed by outside agencies.

Secondly, this breakthrough should remove any defence for colleges who continue to pay below £7.65. It’s a sobering fact that there are 1122 college employees still paid below the living wage. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before they follow suit.

I’d also like to pass on warm congratulations to our wonderful VC Sir Leszek Borysiewicz! I always thought his heart was in the right place… We were all surprised when his salary was upped to £334 K earlier this year but the University maintained the £7.65/hour threshold was unaffordable. It’s great he’s managed to find the cash somewhere.

Are you surprised by this?  The move seems quite abrupt, given the VC’s position recently. 

Yes. I don’t want to lie and say I saw this news coming. It’s never how we imagined it: we always assumed the colleges were much more likely to give in, and a significant proportion of them would convert before the university would think about it. It’s a very abrupt move. But the Vice-Chancellor must have come round to the view that it was an embarrassment. Why are employees at the most prestigious university in the country being paid below the poverty line?

What do you think was the clincher for the uni?  Why now specifically? 

Pressure from students and staff must have been intolerable for the university. The strike last January reflected outrage at pay discrepancies. Faculty staff had their pay cut by 13% in real terms since 2009. And there has been similar pressure on other higher education institutions elsewhere in the country. Cambridge must have decided that it’s better to jump ahead than get pushed from behind.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I’m delighted! Students have worked tirelessly to keep the Living Wage issue alive for the past couple of years. We made sure the story never went quiet. Therefore, the University must have decided it makes much more sense to pay up. King’s students’ campaign was met with fierce resistance from the college for a long time. King’s employed 123 staff members below the living wage. A year ago, the prospect of the college giving in seemed inconceivable. But now the college is actually introcducing it!