UK uni­ver­si­ties un­der pres­sure to pay ‘liv­ing wage’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Chris.haver­gal@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

UK uni­ver­si­ties have come un­der in­creased pres­sure to pay their staff the “liv­ing wage”, as data sug­gest that thou­sands of em­ploy­ees re­ceive less than the vol­un­tary min­i­mum, which is based on the cost of liv­ing.

Ahead of its Liv­ing Wage Week, the Liv­ing Wage Foun­da­tion high­lighted that only about one in five – 34 – UK uni­ver­si­ties was an ac­cred­ited liv­ing wage em­ployer.

Its anal­y­sis of Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics earn­ings data, re­leased to Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, in­di­cated that as many as 6 per cent of di­rectly em­ployed univer­sity staff were last year paid less than the liv­ing wage, which is now set at £10.20 an hour in Lon­don, and £8.75 an hour in the rest of the UK.

This would equate to about 40,000 em­ploy­ees, of whom twothirds are women. The av­er­age pay of these work­ers was £7.95 an hour, 50p be­low the UK liv­ing wage at the time and £1.80 be­low the Lon­don rate.

How­ever, the Uni­ver­si­ties and Col­leges Em­ploy­ers As­so­ci­a­tion said that this es­ti­mate was un­re­al­is­ti­cally high, be­ing out­dated and based on a sam­ple of 1 per cent of sec­tor staff. The low­est rate of pay on the na­tional pay spine is £8.68 an hour, 7p be­low the UK liv­ing wage, and Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics Agency data in­di­cate that only 6,000 of 420,000 sec­tor staff are em­ployed on the low­est pay point.

Both sets of data ex­clude sub­con­tracted staff, who are of­ten among the low­est-paid.

The liv­ing wage has be­come an in­creas­ingly con­tentious is­sue in higher ed­u­ca­tion pay ne­go­ti­a­tions in re­cent months, with unions call­ing for the in­tro­duc­tion of a £10 min­i­mum wage as well as a 7.5 per cent in­crease.

Ucea in­stead of­fered a 2 per cent rise, in­creas­ing to 2.8 per cent for staff on the 14 low­est pay points. In strike bal­lot re­sults that were an­nounced on 22 Oc­to­ber, 69 per cent of Univer­sity and Col­lege Union mem­bers who voted sup­ported a walk­out, but the re­quired 50 per cent thresh­old was only hit at seven in­sti­tu­tions.

Tess Lan­ning, di­rec­tor of the Liv­ing Wage Foun­da­tion, said that uni­ver­si­ties, “as civic in­sti­tu­tions with a strong in­flu­ence over their lo­cal economies and so­ci­eties, should be show­ing lead­er­ship on this is­sue”.

The Uni­son union, which rep­re­sents many higher ed­u­ca­tion sup­port staff, said that data it had been sup­plied with in­di­cate that more than 10,000 univer­sity em­ploy­ees were paid less than the liv­ing wage.

“By not giv­ing staff a de­cent in­come, univer­sity em­ploy­ers are putting peo­ple un­der un­nec­es­sary fi­nan­cial hard­ship. These are ded­i­cated mem­bers of staff, and their pay should re­flect their hard work,” said Jon Richards, Uni­son’s head of ed­u­ca­tion.

A Ucea spokesman said that the higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor “has one of the high­est pro­por­tions of ac­cred­ited liv­ing wage em­ploy­ers in the UK”.

“We know that four in five higher ed­u­ca­tion em­ploy­ers in Lon­don and three out of five out­side [the cap­i­tal] meet or ex­ceed the Liv­ing Wage Foun­da­tion rates,” he said. “Higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions recog­nise the im­por­tance of of­fer­ing ex­cel­lent wider em­ploy­ment pack­ages with com­pet­i­tive rates of pay, and many fol­low the rate but do not seek ac­cred­i­ta­tion as they do not wish to pass the re­spon­si­bil­ity for pay de­ter­mi­na­tion to an ex­ter­nal cam­paign­ing body.”

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