Yesterday, we posted a blog detailing why the minimum wage is a poverty wage and explaining how many people employed on a minimum wage are not able to cover the basis costs of living.
Shockingly, this is also the case on Warwick University Campus. A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that at least 241 workers who have been employed on campus for 6 months or more are not paid the living wage. This puts us a long way into the shameful group of 39 UK universities who have more than 100 staff on less than the living wage.
In their response to the FOI the University said that they “do not hold the ‘living wage’ as a benchmark for fair pay”. This is a betrayal of those low paid staff who allow the university to function on an everyday basis.
They also said that last year they paid a bonus to all full time staff who fell below the living wage to bring them above living wage. However, we need to make it totally clear that this is a completely insufficient measure which allows them to cheat many workers out of the pay they need to live and which perpetuates damaging employment practices.
The living wage is not only applicable to full time work – it is meant to cover all wage labour. If student employees are being paid a poverty wage on a part time basis as they attempt to cover the costs of their degree that is simply unacceptable, particularly when it is their own university who are doing so.
It is also obvious that the full time/part time division is vulnerable to deliberate confusion. For example, we know that many cleaners at the university who work ‘part time’ are actually employed 5 days a week for the hours of a ‘full time’ member of staff. This is because they have to sign one ‘part time’ contract for the morning shift, and another ‘part time’ contract for the afternoon shift. Not only does this deprive them of the benefits and protections to which they have a legal right, it also means that they will not have been paid this bonus, and therefore may have remained on the minimum wage – or, to put it more truthfully, a poverty wage. At this point, though, we have no clarification if the university counts cleaners in the 241 figure, as their response did not fully detail the state of low pay amongst external contractors. We have to understand that the 241 figure may indeed be a gross underestimate.
Hourly paid teaching staff are also not counted within the 241 figure, even though they earn less than the minimum wage in many departments, because they are paid for the hour they teach and not the hours they prepare. The university does not consider the preparation they do ‘work’, and as a result hourly paid staff are meant to earn above the living wage – but imagine a seminar on Kant where the tutor hadn’t read Kant. These staff are forced to put themselves below the living wage by working extra time unpaid to prepare if they want to provide any kind of reasonable teaching. Not only are they below the living wage, but in many cases they are below the minimum wage. They are actually paid a sub-poverty wage.
This highlights one clear fact: a devious calculation of who is full time and who is part time is in the university’s interest, and this 241 figure may be far from the full reality of low pay at the university. By paying a living wage ‘bonus’ and not recognising all workers and all hours worked the university can muck about with the figures and exclude many members of staff, like cleaners and hourly paid teachers, from that bonus.
A bonus is, therefore, totally insufficient. Sir ‘No Confidence’ Nigel Thrift is paid £348,000 a year, whilst literally hundreds of staff are not paid enough to cover the basic cost of living. This is not an abstract disgrace which a few student activists are getting upset about. This shows unequivocally that the university is engaged in the creation of huge wealth inequality and the impoverishment of essential support staff in order to maximise financial surplus (read: profit).
There is no solution to this apart from the immediate and comprehensive raising of all wages paid by the university, its wholly owned subsidiary companies (like Warwick Retail), and its outsourcing partners to the living wage.
No bullshit bonuses which cheat staff out of essential pay – we need the living wage for every hour worked.
This is not an extraordinary demand. Cambridge, Kings, SOAS, UCL, Birmingham, LSE, Oxford, Exeter and many more universities are already living wage employers. And following the payment of the living wage, we need to tie together the pay of the highest and lowest paid member of staff, so that we can never again reach the stage where some executives swan about in chauffer driven jaguars whilst others are not paid enough to live on.