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Council awarded living wage certification

Oxford City Council has been accredited with becoming the first authority in the county to ensure that its employees are paid the ‘living wage’ of at least £8 an hour. The announcement comes ahead of the national Living Wage Week, which will take place across the UK between November 4 and 10. Oxford City Council implemented the scheme in 2009. Recently, the council has had to make other budget cuts in order to raise its lowest level of pay from £7.20 to £8.01 an hour, which is 81p above the UK Living wage for outside of London. The current minimum wage across the country is £6.19 for those over 21.

Leader of the council, Bob Price, said, “We’re pleased our initiative has been formally recognised and the positive effects this policy has had on supporting the city’s economy.” He explained the motivations behind the living wage, commenting, “We were aware that the national minimum wage could not reflect the much higher housing costs in Oxford and other major urban centres. We wanted to ensure that our minimum pay rates, and those of our contractors, took account of this major difference in what a low salary can provide as a standard of living.’

“The impact on our employees has been very positive and the quality of our staff reflects the terms and conditions offered,” he added. “We would certainly like to see all employers adopt a Living Wage Minimum that reflects the reality of local living costs especially in the Thames Valley area,” he concluded.

Rhys Moore, director of the Living Wage Foundation, told the Oxford Mail, “The benefits to staff and business are clear. I welcome the leadership shown by Oxford City Council on this.” At the time of the council’s decision to adopt the living wage Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce president Nigel Wild said he applauded Oxford City Council for taking the measure. He commented, “But I think businesses are having to cut their cloth accordingly at the moment and if they haven’t got the money, they can’t raise wages. Most people are taking the view that simply having a job is better than no job.”

The living wage is a voluntary rate of pay that some employers give their staff and is designed to enable workers to afford a basic standard of living. It is calculated by a formula from the National Income Standard, which is authorised by the Rowntree Trust, and takes into account factors such as cost of housing, council tax and transport. Oxford City Council is the only one of Oxfordshire’s six local authorities to have gained accreditation.

Tom Coy, Exeter Welfare Officer, welcomed the announcement: “it’s great that the council has recognized how expensive it can be to live in Oxford and has raised the wage it pays to its employees accordingly.” Barney Grimpson, a second year Economics and Management student commented, “It’s a shame that the university has not followed suit. It is scandalous that the second biggest employer in the city has not committed to paying its staff a wage which reflects their costs of living.”

The Oxford Living Wage Campaign aims to build an alliance of workers and students to campaining for a living wage for all employees of Oxford University. The campaign highlights that working poverty is a growing problem in the UK. 61% of children living in poverty live in working households. 18 out of 38 Oxford colleges are confirmed as currently paying their staff the living wage.

Last week, Joshua Calder-Travis, representing the Oxford Living Wage Campaign, criticised recuitment adverts published in The Oxford Student, which stated “Because of my story, scouts across the university are now paid a Living Wage”. Calder-Travis claimed that 16 colleges did not pay Living Wage to all employees, with a further four failing to respond. Information on contractor wages was difficult to obtain. He said ‘Through discussions with employees, and information gathered in other ways, we have come to believe that the majority of staff employed in this way are not paid a Living Wage.’

‘People who are employed to clean libraries and departments often finish work before students arrive. As such there is little chance that students will ever have met the person that cleans their department. It is these staff which the Oxford Student’s claim that ‘scouts across the university are paid a Living Wage’ overlooks, along with all the staff at a further sixteen to twenty colleges.’ He therefore suggested ‘the statement published in the Oxford Student paper is both highly misleading and deeply harmful to building a community in Oxford where everyone is paid fairly.’

Isaac Delestre, Editor of the Oxford Student, refuted these allegations, saying that the quote itself had not actually said that all scouts in the university were paid a living wage. He added that the paper had helped, for example, to ensure staff at St John’s were paid a living wage.

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