Pressure mounts for University to pay the Living Wage

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The President of Durham Students’ Union, Dan Slavin, has sent a letter to the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ray Hudson, appealing for the University to pay the Living Wage.

The 286-word letter requests that the University should “investigate how Durham can become a Living Wage employer.”

This is the latest effort to raise the issue of the Living Wage, a national initiative that was launched in 2011.

Calculated by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, the Living Wage is “the minimum hourly wage needed for an individual to meet their own or their family’s day-to-day needs including housing, food and clothing.”

Freedom of Information data requested by Palatinate in March 2012 revealed that around 12.5% of permanent University staff and more than 90% of contracted workers are paid below the living wage, which is currently set at £7.85 per hour.

In his letter to the Acting Vice-Chancellor, Dan Slavin described the difference in wage between the highest and lowest paid University staff members as “unjustifiably high.”

He added:

“Some of the University’s lowest paid workers are the most valued by our students; with the domestic staff often cited as a key part of the college community.”

Since sending the letter, Dan Slavin has told Palatinate:

“Following our letter to Professor Ray Hudson we have received a response to say that the University’s HR Director will be looking at the Living Wage as part of a broader review.

“We have taken steps to meet with the HR Director to establish a timeline for activity.”

“Some of the University’s lowest paid workers are the most valued by our students; with the domestic staff often cited as a key part of the college community.”

Pressure for the University to become a Living Wage employer has gained momentum since March 2012, when the Durham University Labour Club (DULC) founded the Living Wage Campaign Committee, which the then-President, Oliver Gratton, said was “a politically neutral effort to bring about a fair wage for Durham University employees.”

Last year, the DULC hosted a talk and organised an online petition calling for the “fair treatment of employees” that received 601 signatures.

In that same year, the Students’ Union also agreed to join the NUS in their Living Wage campaign and approved a new Durham University Living Wage Society (DULWS).

Outside the University, Durham City MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods, released a statement earlier this month, urging the University to live up to its status as a “leading North Eastern institution.”

She added: “In the University’s response to the Durham University campaign for the Living Wage it has the chance to really change the lives of those living in Durham, and make a lasting contribution to the local community.”

However, Professor Ray Hudson has previously expressed scepticism about the Living Wage, arguing that “more sophisticated” figures are required to calculate a figure such as a Living Wage.

Despite this, he is also one of three authors of a 57-page report entitled How Can Universities Support Disadvantaged Communities?, published in September 2012.

One of its statements reads: “Universities can do more…by promoting good practice, such as setting an example to other employers by…ensuring that all employees are paid at least the Living Wage.”

In its most recent statement, the University said:

“The University has agreed to review its position on the Living Wage, taking into account the range of benefits available to our staff.”

Photograph: Joyce Uerpairojkit

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