On Tuesday 16 December, Oxford’s Living Wage Campaign announced that Hertford had become the first college to be fully accredited as a Living Wage Employer, committing to pay the Living Wage (currently £7.85) or above to all staff, year after year as the rate increases with inflation.
The news was leaked – the college has yet to officially confirm the decision, with an announcement expected later this month.
While it’s a huge step forward, C+ investigates some of the issues still facing scouts and hall staff – the lowest paid groups of staff in most colleges – as well as student attitudes towards them.
We found some alarming allegations of bullying, intolerance, and staff not being paid for overtime.
Other articles in this Investigation:
- “Increasingly unfriendly” environment at Jesus – a former employee talks about the bullying she experienced at the college
- Scouts “not getting paid overtime” – a student working as a scout over the summer discusses his experiences
- “We’re at the bottom of the power chain” – an anonymous scout discusses the realities of living in Oxford
“It seems like everyone is keen to pretend that they don’t exist”
The above comment was left by a Somerville student responding to our survey, and it highlights the issue of “pretending” which I encountered throughout this investigation.
Some of the scouts and hall staff we spoke to allege that some colleges have previously pretended that staff have been paid in full, when overtime pay was still owed.
Other colleges give staff the chance to provide feedback through liaison meetings and forms, but the staff we spoke to felt scared to do so, feeling that their suggestions “won’t be acted on”.
Perhaps the worst pretending act we heard of, as detailed in Samuel Rutishauser-Mills’ feature, was when college authorities supposedly forced staff to go by different names when they work because their birth names sound “too foreign”. One staff member shrugged it off when I asked him about this, as though it was common practice, yet there are surely few things more demeaning than depriving someone of their own name.
It goes without saying that these alarming issues must be addressed by the colleges in question. If they are truly concerned with the wellbeing of their staff, they can begin by respecting them through the wages paid.
Reassuringly perhaps, at least 16 colleges now pay their staff the Living Wage, yet only Hertford is accredited as a Living Wage Employer (meaning that they guarantee to pay all staff, including contractors, the Living Wage as it increases with inflation). This discrepancy is alarming, and represents a reluctance to commit to provide staff with the financial security they desperately need to live in one of the country’s most expensive areas.
While the national rate has recently been set at £7.85, Oxford’s excessively high housing prices and general cost of living means that the minimum Living Wage rate is, at best, a bare minimum.
As put by one of the scouts I spoke to, “You’d have thought they could at least pay us a few pence above that, to show that they’re not just concerned with hitting targets?” If employers are taking the needs of their staff seriously, they should acknowledge the fact that Oxford’s cost of living is comparable to that of London, where the Living Wage rate is £9.15 per hour.
Colleges “aware” of the Living Wage despite not paying it
Two of the colleges who admitted they didn’t pay all staff the Living Wage were keen to justify themselves by listing some of the other benefits available to their employees. St John’s, for instance, which pays its staff £7.47 if they don’t have an NVQ Qualification, told us that they offer “a generous non-contributory pension scheme after one year of service”.
They assured us, “For comparability with other colleges who place their employees on the Oxford Staff Pension Scheme, the equivalent rate of pay with an employee pension contribution of 6.35 per cent would be £7.95 for staff without NVQs.”
St Antony’s, meanwhile, assured us that its rate of £7.21 “does not include a number of employee benefits such as extensive annual leave, very good pension contributions… and an annual bonus.
“We are also in the process of initiating an overall College pay and benefits review.”
Worcester, who did not tell Cherwell exactly what their minimum wage paid to staff is, explained, “Worcester is aware of the living wage and continues to actively review the salaries and other benefits of its staff in relation to both local and regional standards.”
Elsewhere, St Hilda’s – paying some of its staff £7.65 – is “aware of the situation with regards to the Living Wage”, and told us that they “continue to give it active consideration”.
Student Survey Results