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The shocking wage rates of our college workers

The Living Wage Campaign has published the sobering statistics this week

This week, the Living Wage Campaign (LWC) has published the rates of pay for 29 Cambridge colleges, conveying the shocking inequity existing in the wealthiest university in Britain.

The statistics, published by LWC, convey stark discrepancies within the varying college's figures. The most concerning instances were Clare and Homerton, who paid over 12 per cent of their workers less than the Real Living Wage (RLW) of £9.30 an hour.

On the other end of the scale, Trinity College provided the highest wage to their least paid workers, at £9.27 an hour, still lower than the updated RLW.

As LWC outline in their table, the data included is based on the rates paid by University of Cambridge to their workers in July 2019. Some wages, such as at Clare college, have since increased.

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Source: Living Wage Campaign Cambridge.

Robinson and Magdalene refused to submit their wage data under the Freedom of Information Act. However, in the Taylor Table, complied using data from August 15th 2018, it was revealed that Magdalene and Robinson respectively paid 47 per cent and 58.7 per cent of their non-academic and administrative staff below £8.70 an hour.

The Ethical Affairs Campaign commented upon this non-disclosure, saying: “We are seeing College staff across Cambridge being overworked, underpaid and in precarious conditions and condemn Robinson’s, Magdelene’s and St Catherine’s decisions to obscure information on staff working conditions. The evasion of transparency and accountability no doubt contribute to a system of exploitation in their College grounds.”

These statistics are particularly striking in light of The University Council's pledge in February 2018 to seek formal accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation and to secure the real living wage for all college workers.

At the time of data collection, no college's lowest wage exceeded the RLW. The RLW constitutes the basic cost of living in the UK, and was updated this Monday (11th November) to £9.30 across the UK and £10.75 in London. The £9.30 does't consider the specific property premium in Cambridge; a two bedroom flat costs on average £375,000.

It is impossible to ignore the real-world impact of low wages in Cambridge, which has the combined wealth of the colleges amassing to a huge £6.9bn.

A report by the Centre for Cities think tank published in February 2018 found Cambridge to be the least equal city in the UK, compared to 57 other cities including London. The bottom 20 per cent of earners in our city account for two per cent of the total income generated by residents.

Evidence conveys a significant proportion of people experiencing or at risk of poverty; worryingly, an estimated one in 10 households in Cambridge earns less than £16,518 a year.

The report credits this to factors such as low wages and the upsurge in housing costs.

Edward Parker Humphreys, the CUSU President, released a statement in response to LWC's data: “By refusing to pay their staff a Real Living Wage, Cambridge colleges are failing to guarantee a decent standard of living to some of their most important workers.

"In a city as expensive as Cambridge, where living costs are far higher than the national average, paying a real Living Wage should be the bare minimum for such wealthy institutions.”

The MP for Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner, has appealed the 31 colleges to rectify the injustice evident in the figures of July 2019. He stated: "We live in a great City – it needs to be great for everyone. That’s why the real Living Wage matters so much.

"The evidence is clear – ending low pay isn’t just good for workers, it helps employers because absenteeism falls and fewer staff leave. Higher pay for low-paid people boosts the local economy and reduces the cost of in-work benefits to the tax-payer. It is a win-win policy, that will be pursued by the next Labour Government, but in the meantime we want colleges to put their house in order and end low pay."

The Cambridge University Living Wage Campaign has released a statement alongside these statistics, contending that colleges "have a duty to their staff, without whom they would not be able to operate, to provide fair pay, fair working conditions and fair representation. That means committing to accreditation with the Living Wage Foundation, paying the Cambridge Living Wage, and providing secure and stable contracts to all workers. We plan to build a broad coalition of support across Cambridge to bring an end to this injustice.”

In response to the publication of these figures, the Clare Bursar responded to The Tab: "The data referred to for Clare College in July 2019 is no longer accurate. This is because there has been an annual increase in staff salaries, which is why all permanent staff (174 in total) now receive £9.00 or more per hour."

The Bursar went on to outline that "in addition, there are 47 students who work in the student-run Bar, who are paid less than £9.00. However, their wages are set by the students themselves and they also receive additional benefits."

Responding to the LWC's data, Homerton told The Cambridge Tab: "It is College policy to pay all permanent and temporary employees as least the Real Living Wage. In fact [due to additional benefits of work] our payroll cost per employee is one of the highest in collegiate Cambridge…We do employ casuals primarily in catering and also Homerton students and others who assist with interviewing, Open Days, gym monitoring, etc. Use of casuals is not undertaken to avoid giving permanent contracts but meets both the uncertainty/one-off nature of the College and in some cases the requirements of the casual staff members (such as local students).

"Our casuals are paid according to the National Living wage. The minimum rate for casuals is the National Minimum wage for the age group 21 to 24 (even if they are under 21). This is the £7.70 per hour quoted. Under employment law, casual staff must be paid 12.2 per cent of the pay rate in addition in lieu of holiday pay making a total of £8.64.

"The data was requested specifically for a date in July 16th 2019. As the College is full at this time with summer schools and conferences, including outreach programmes…there will be higher number of casual staff than during term time."

Cover image author's own.