St Hugh’s College JCR has rejected a motion to create a Liaison Officer “to liaise with college staff and help promote the Living Wage in college”.
St Hugh’s College currently pays its scouts £9 per hour, below the Oxford Living Wage currently set at £10.02 per hour.
The motion also called for the JCR “to launch a campaign for the Oxford Living Wage at St Hugh’s and seek to utilise creative methods to pressure college into improving pay conditions for staff.”
The Oxford Living Wage, set by the City Council, is set at a higher rate than the National Living Wage to reflect the higher costs of living in Oxford.
The motion argued that “Scouts, housekeepers and everyone else employed by St. Hugh’s ought to be paid at least the Oxford living wage.
“The JCR should support and stand in solidarity with workers at St Hugh’s.
“The JCR should seek to organise, lobby and take whatever action necessary to improve the wages of the workers at St. Hugh’s.
“A spirit of solidarity and activism among the JCR will be beneficial for members of the college.”
The motion was proposed by Joe Higton, a finalist at the college. After an online vote, it was rejected by 39 votes to 26.
The motion also called for St Hugh’s JCR “to launch a campaign for the Oxford Living Wage at St Hugh’s and seek to utilise creative methods to pressure college into improving pay conditions for staff.”
One of the concerns raised during the JCR discussion of the motion was that the role of a JCR Officer is to represent the student body and to be elected by those that they were representing, which would not be possible in this case.
Higton suggested that this motion was more about raising awareness, so he was not sure what the drawback of this would be.
The JCR President also argued that the motion appeared to be “quite patronising”. However, Higton maintained that the motion was “simply backing staff members in line with the Living Wage Campaign.”
In the JCR meeting, it was suggested that the person sitting on College’s committees is best placed to raise this issue, and that students could not fulfil this.
The Secretary pointed out the potential for conflicts of interest between JCR and the Liaison Officer in terms of student rent levels.
According to the minutes of the meeting, “college have stressed staff wages as a key argument for proposed rent raises in the past and during this year’s rent negotiation.”
Higton told Cherwell: “I think the motion didn’t pass mainly because the committee opposed it, but I also think I ought to have prepared the motion better and anticipated the pushback – I didn’t expect anyone to oppose it because I think it seems fairly straightforwardly good.
“I think it’s disappointing it didn’t pass, and it shows that sometimes people become too concerned with the technicalities and inner workings of JCR business rather than wider goals.”
Higton explained that, although as a finalist he does not have the time to set up an Oxford Living Wage campaign at the college himself, “the idea was that this would create some kind of momentum or inertia in that direction for other people to take it on.”
Oxford City Council recently launched a new Oxford Living Wage Accreditation Scheme.
It is the minimum which the council pays its staff and agency workers.
The Council also expects all suppliers with contracts over £100,000 to pay the Oxford Living Wage to their staff and subcontractors.
While 17 of Oxford’s 38 colleges and Oxford University are signed up to pay the Real Living Wage of £9.00 per hour, currently only two Oxford colleges and PPHs, Blackfriars College and Campion Hall, pay the Oxford Living Wage – a separate wage rate due to the substantially higher costs of living in Oxford.
Oxford was recently classed the least affordable city in the UK, with average weekly rental prices at £121.15, much higher than the national average of £87.68.
Other colleges have also launched campaigns to pay their staff the Oxford Living Wage. St Hilda’s students began a campaign in February, while Wolfson students are also calling for the college to raise staff pay.
Recently, Labour Councillor Martyn Rush told Cherwell that these campaigns made him “hopeful of progress on these fronts soon.”
This comes after Susan Brown, the Leader of Oxford City Council, wrote to the wealthiest Oxford University colleges to ask if they could pay the Oxford Living Wage to their lowest-earning staff.
Brown called the low number of colleges paying the Oxford Living Wage to all staff “disgusting.”
Oxford SU currently operates an Oxford Living Wage Campaign, which has been arguing for colleges to pay all staff the recommended by the council as a minimum.