The Oxford University Living Wage Campaign has seen two major developments this week, with St. Anne’s launching a petition and a protest being held in Wellington square.
Yesterday, the University’s Personnel Committee hosted a public meeting in Wellington Square to discuss the issue, and to demonstrate in support of a living wage for Oxford University staff. The event was convened by Dan Tomlinson, OUSU Vice-President for Charities and Communities, and Andrew Grey, chair of the University’s Living Wage Campaign.
Tomlinson said, “An important university committee was meeting yesterday to discuss whether or not the central university should take more action on the Living Wage. We held an event outside the building as the committee members were arriving to celebrate the Living Wage and show our thanks to University staff for working hard for us.
“More than 30 students attended our action and the Chair of the University committee came out and spoke with members of the campaign. We have been in constructive dialogue with the University for a number of months now and it was the University that pro-actively decided to discuss the Living Wage at the meeting yesterday. I look forward to more productive meetings with them in the future.”
The national Living Wage is currently set at £7.65 an hour for workers outside London. The figure takes into account the costs of living, including rent, food bills, child-care, and utility costs.
Currently, only five Oxford colleges pay its staff the Living Wage. However, this week also saw St Anne’s student launch a campaign petitioning college authorities to engage in discussions about the its introduction. George Gillett, the OUSU rep for St Anne’s, told Cherwell, “At St Anne’s, we’ve been campaigning for the past year to encourage the college to become a Living Wage employer. Unfortunately, despite numerous meetings with the College Treasurer, as well as passing a JCR motion with unanimous support, the College authorities are still denying our request to even start communicating with staff about their pay and working conditions.
“We felt that a petition would be a good way to show how important paying the Living Wage is to students, tutors and staff alike. The petition has received over 330 signatures in less than a week, clearly showing that a large proportion of the College community actively support the Living Wage.”
St Anne’s JCR president, Christina Toenshoff, pointed out “the fact that not only students, but also staff and even Governing Body fellows have signed it shows very clearly that this is not just a movement from within the student body, but something that has support on all levels within college.”
Jo Hynes, a St Anne’s geography student, stressed the importance of the student-led campaign. “College so far have been very much against the introduction of a Living Wage at St Anne’s, consistently suggesting that staff are paid a living wage when bonuses and other benefits are accounted for – despite the fact that these have been decreasing in recent years and not all staff on the lowest pay receive them. In spite of its purported image as a more forward-thinking college, St Anne’s does not seem to value paying all its employees a wage suitable to live off.”
Oxford colleges which pay the Living Wage to all of their staff include Green Templeton, All Soul’s, Brasenose, New, and Mansfield. OUSU Vice-President Dan Tomlinson argued, given that Mansfield is one of the poorer colleges, other colleges could also follow suit, commenting, “The University is making good progress towards paying a Living Wage and is actively considering it for central university buildings and departments, so some colleges really need to catch up.”
Not all Oxford students have seen the St Anne’s campaign in a positive light, however. Several students have questioned the economic efficiency of implementing the Living Wage. Duncan Heagan, an undergraduate at New College, said, “The Living Wage is one of those things that we do to try and assuage our guilt at being privileged. It seems like a good idea on paper, but in practice, less so. I am by no means aware of the full impact which adopting the Living Wage has had on the staff of New College, but I understand that it resulted in many being laid off and the College cutting back in other areas as well, e.g. students now have to provide their own bedding. Granted, if providing my own bedclothes means someone else can enjoy a higher standard of living, than I’m okay with it I suppose, but I’m not sure to what extent this is the case.”
Despite this, Kath Nicholls, JCR President at New College, affirms that a recent Living Wage Campaign similar to St Anne’s current petition was passed “with overwhelming support last year” in her college’s JCR.
Last year, the University committed to paying all of its direct employees the Living Wage.