HR Director admits “questions” surround the University’s payment of employees

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In an exclusive interview with Palatinate, the Director of Human Resources for Durham University, Clare Curran, admitted that “questions” surround the University’s payment of its employees and spoke about the University’s position on the Living Wage debate.

When asked why the University is reviewing its position on the Living Wage, Clare Curran, who joined the University in January 2014, said: “We know that there are a number of people asking us why we aren’t paying the Living Wage, we do get a lot of correspondence.

“Our managers have said that some of our terms and conditions have not been applied fairly and appropriately across the organisation and have questioned whether we’ve got them right so we need to look at that.

“And I think for me as someone new coming in I’m asking the wondering questions – why are we doing things in a certain way?”

Over the summer Cambridge University announced that their directly-employed staff will receive the Living Wage and Oxford University announced last year that it would pay the Living Wage to all of its employees.

When asked how Durham University feels about not paying the Living Wage to its entire staff, Curran responded:

“I don’t think we should be embarrassed. I think the University pays an exceptionally good employment package to our staff.

“We know that there are a number of people asking us why we aren’t paying the Living Wage, we do get a lot of correspondence. “

“You’ve got to think about everything that makes up the employment package – there’s the normal salary that people get and then on top of that we pay an alternating shift allowance, we pay overtime provisions, we pay a flexible working supplement, we pay unsocial hours supplements, we also have a final salary pension scheme for people in bands 1-5 and then on top of that we offer 27 days holiday plus four customary days and of course there’s the normal bank holidays.”

She added: “I can’t turn around and say that we are or aren’t in favour of introducing the Living Wage. We are going to review it and see if we think it’s the right thing to do. It will be a whole package review and we are prepared to have a look at it. The University’s being very positive about this.”

Palatinate also asked Curran when the University will have finished its review, to which she responded:

“Giving an end date for this process is difficult and there are two reasons for this: I’ve not been at Durham University for very long and consultation needs to happen and that can take a long time because of the number of staff and the managers of various groups.

“It would be nice to think that by the summer we will have a set of terms and conditions that we know we want to change but it might be done earlier than that. That’s the big issue, I don’t know how big and emotive this is going to be.”

Curran also spoke to Palatinate about the University’s recruitment process for the next Vice-Chancellor, saying that she is due to agree a long list of candidates for the position this week.

When Palatinate told Curran that some students argue that student consultation sessions should have taken place throughout the recruitment process rather than only at the beginning, she said:

“I think we are consulting with students throughout this process. We have the President of the Students’ Union on the interview panel so Dan Slavin is representing students and is involved every step of the way so if students have views or comments Dan will feed them in.

“I can’t turn around and say that we are or aren’t in favour of introducing the Living Wage.

“I can assure you that Dan is not a shrinking violet – he will speak. If people have shared comments and views with Dan, I know he will raise these in the interview panel.”

Explaining who makes up the interview panel, Curran said:

“The Chair of University Council and the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ray Hudson will be on the panel. We’ve then got four Council representatives and four Senate representatives, an external figure and Dan Slavin. The Senate representatives are made up of staff from colleges as well as Heads of Department.

“We’re also getting a balance on the panel to make sure that those representatives from University Council and the Senate are 50% male and 50% female.

“Each panel member will have equal rights to say what they want, there is no one person that will be treated differently and I can assure you that the Chairman regards that very very seriously.”

The University hopes to have appointed a new Vice-Chancellor by Easter 2015, with the successful candidate taking up their position the following October.

Photograph: Emma Werner

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