A College scout
The Oxford Living Wage Campaign has claimed that staff in Oxford colleges are “genuinely struggling” to live on their wages.
The student-run initiative has been pushing for a wage of at least £7 per hour for all College workers. Liam Taylor, an Oxford University student involved in the campaign, reported that a recent poll of scouts in Hertford found 93% said they “cannot afford to live comfortably on their wages,” while the figure in Balliol was 63%.
A Balliol scout commented, “[The cost of] accommodation is too high in Oxford. Transport is too high. Food is too high.
The Oxford City Council tax is going up again and again.” The campaign has especially gained momentum in the College, where the Bursar is said to be “investigating costs” and a report to the JCR in February urged students to consider “How much (if at all) would you be prepared to pay” to see a higher wage implemented.
Figures for what College employees are currently paid are difficult to obtain, with most colleges reluctant to reveal financial details. The Magdalen bursar said the college would “absolutely not” disclose employee wages, citing confidentiality issues.
He also cast doubt on the campaign’s claim that staff are underpaid, saying, “I’d be very surprised if any Oxford college staff were down on the minimum wage.”
Harris Manchester revealed, however, that their lowest paid staff receive £6.82/hr, while Balliol scouts are paid £6.09/hr. This tallies with the 2006 survey of low-paid staff wages carried out by the Living Wage Campaign, which found that most fell in the range £6 – £6.90.
The campaign is based on a similar one in London, which has been endorsed by Mayor Ken Livingston, and claims that the minimum wage – currently £5.52/hr for over-21s – fails to match the cost of living in London. Oxford City Council passed a motion in November for all Council employees to be paid seven pounds.
One result of the campaign will be the start of free English lessons for workers from overseas. “We found there was often a massive language barrier,” said Felix Flicker, a St Catz student who organises the lessons. “English lessons are so expensive in Oxford.” The initial session for the course had a turn-out of around 80 people.
Councillor Matt Sellwood, who is Deputy Leader of the Green Party Group and seconded the motion, commented, “I’m really glad that Labour and the Greens have been able to work together to ensure that the City Council is a fair and equitable employer. I hope that the University and Colleges will follow this example, and will do everything I can to support the excellent OUSU campaign on the subject.”