A Cherwell investigation has found that at least ten Oxford colleges were still not paying the real Living Wage of £9.30 per hour to all of their permanent employees and casual workers as of 16th December 2020.

Balliol, Brasenose, Exeter, Keble, St Anthony’s, St Catherine’s, St Edmund Hall, St John’s, Trinity, and Wolfson were all paying their lowest-earning adult workers a basic wage of less than £9.30 per hour, whilst Magdalen and Wadham have not yet responded. 

Despite the basic rate being less than £9.30 per hour, some colleges pointed out that they offered a number of benefits which provided for a total package that exceeded the real Living Wage. Wolfson College, for instance, listed amongst a long list of benefits a £200 Christmas bonus to all staff, meals whilst on duty, as well as 11 holiday days over the statutory allowance, which they claim is the equivalent to £792 per annum for a full-time employee paid £9 per hour. A spokesperson from Wolfson College told Cherwell that the basic benefits used by all staff are worth “almost £7,000, which translates into an additional £3.30 per hour on average.”

Balliol, Brasenose, Exeter, St Anthony’s, St Edmund Hall, and St John’s College stressed that it is only casual workers who are not paid the real Living Wage, and that all permanent employees are paid at least £9.30 per hour. In some cases, holiday uplift for casual workers effectively took the hourly rate to above £9.30 per hour.

Philip Parker, Chair of the Estates Bursars Committee for the Conference of Colleges told Cherwell: “College employees receive generous benefits that are not included in hourly pay calculations, including longer holidays, valuable pensions and free meals. In addition, the college data will often include students who work for the college in vacations, for example to support outreach work or commercial conferences; these students usually get subsidised accommodation.”

Cherwell’s investigation has also shown that at least 17 colleges and PPHs now have formal accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation, which means that they are formally committed to paying the real Living Wage.

The real Living Wage is different from the government’s national living wage, which was introduced in April 2016 for all staff over 25 and is currently set at £8.72 per hour. The Living Wage Foundation’s website states: “This wage [the national living wage] is not calculated according to what employees and their families need to live. […] The real Living Wage rates are higher because they are independently-calculated based on what people need to get by.” Furthermore, the real Living Wage covers all staff aged 18 and over.

The real Living Wage was increased in November 2020 to £9.50 per hour, meaning that the 17 colleges and PPHs who are accredited Living Wage Employers will have to increase their minimum hourly wage to £9.50 by 9th May 2021 at the latest. Several other colleges, despite not having formal accreditation, say that they are committed to paying in line with the recommendations of the Living Wage Foundation.

The Oxford Living Wage (OLW) is an hourly minimum wage which recognises the high cost of living in Oxford and is set annually at 95% of the London Living Wage. The University of Oxford announced last February that it was committing to paying all its employees at least the Oxford Living Wage. However, since Oxford colleges are independent employers, they were left to make their own decisions about the OLW. All Souls, Blackfriars, Campion Hall, Green Templeton, Kellogg, Merton, St Benet’s, and St Cross College were all paying at least the Oxford Living Wage of £10.21 per hour to all their workers and employees as of 16th December 2020.

A spokesperson from Oxford City Council told Cherwell: “The Oxford Living Wage has been created to promote liveable earnings for workers. It reflects the fact that Oxford is one of the most expensive cities to live in the UK, and helps accredited employers demonstrate they value their workforce. With expensive housing in the city, many workers have to choose between spending more money to live in the city, or more on travel to get to work.”

Many colleges are still far off paying all their workers a base rate of the OWL. As of 16 December 2020, 53% of adult employees, including casual workers, employed by Corpus Christi College in non-academic and non-administrative positions were paid below £10.21 per hour. At Lady Margaret Hall this figure was 53.98%, at St Catherine’s 56%, and at St Edmund Hall 59%.

A spokesperson from the Oxford City Living Wage Campaign (OCLWC) told Cherwell: “Most of the low paid, insecurely employed (“temporary”) staff who work in Oxford University Colleges are working class, female, and BAME people. Many are migrant workers who do not speak English as a first language.

“One of the main lessons of the coronavirus crisis has been to re-evaluate the status of so called unskilled and semi-skilled workers now that their economic contribution is shown to be “essential” and pivotal to the functioning of society and the economy.”

The lack of conferences this past year will have impacted some college staff, with many colleges usually offering conference bonuses for staff involved in delivering these. St Anne’s College told Cherwell: “The college under normal circumstances pays a cash bonus to some of its lower paid bursary staff. This did not occur in 2020 because of the effect of the pandemic on its conference business.”

In contrast, some colleges have recognised the negative impact of the pandemic on staff and offered additional benefits as a result. Green Templeton paid a pandemic bonus of at least £100 in November 2020, whilst Linacre paid a flat rate bonus of £500 in November 2020 to “all staff in employment on 1 November 2020 who were on a contract of 1 year or more in duration and were of university grade 9 or below […] in recognition of the commitment of all staff to overcoming the challenges caused by COVID 19.”

Philip Parker from the Conference of Colleges told Cherwell: “staff have been supported through the pandemic with jobs kept open and full pay maintained for furloughed staff, despite the very significant losses of revenue that colleges have incurred.”

The OCLWC called on “all Oxford University Colleges and institutions to harmonise their employment protocols around common wage rates at or above the OLW and to extend full employment protection to everyone who works at the University of Oxford, it’s colleges, partner institutions or [as] contractors.

“Such reforms would also lead to greater efficiency and provide visible and statistical evidence of Oxford University Colleges’ desire to change and redress historical injustices.”

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