London Living Wage campaign offers support for university’s outsourced workforce.
In November 2010, King’s College London, alongside many other universities and companies, became accredited by The Living Wage Foundation. However, three years have passed, and the university’s outsourced workers are still yet to see the implementation of this formal pledge.
Those involved in the campaign highlight that King’s has been awarded the official Living Wage Employer mark, and the recognition that goes with it, but hasn’t yet shown a firm commitment to making sure that all of the university’s contracted out employees are paid the London Living Wage.
The London Living Wage was first introduced in 2005 by the body Citizens UK, as a means of addressing the difficulty in maintaining an adequate standard of living in London, on the national minimum wage of £6.31 an hour (the current national minimum wage).
Every year, the London Living Wage is re-calculated by the Greater London Authority and the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, in order to take into account the fluctuations in living costs. This year it has been announced that the new London rate is £8.80 per hour.
Workers who are supporting families on the minimum wage particularly struggle to cover costs of the essential transport to and from the workplace, household bills and the ever-increasing London rent. In many cases, this means that parents have to take supplementary night jobs, or resort to exploitative payday lenders in order to provide for their family’s needs.
The increase of £2.49 an hour alleviates the financial strain on such families, enabling them to establish a more equal balance between work and family life, and therefore to lead more fulfilling lives. London Mayor Boris Johnson has heavily endorsed the campaign, arguing that not only does it help families meet their essential living needs, but also “makes economic sense” for individual businesses, and for the city as a whole.
The Living Wage Foundation also stresses the significant impact it makes on the morale of employees. This is particularly relevant in establishments such as King’s, where there is a mix of in-house and outsourced support staff. They suggest that a parity of incomes makes contracted out staff feel that they are an equally valued part of the workforce, as they rightfully are.
In a detailed report, entitled The Living Wage in the UK Higher Education Sector, commissioned by UNISON and NUS, it is stated:
“We believe universities and colleges should be amongst the most progressive employers in the country. We also believe that students expect their institutions to act with fairness and equality towards not only their students, but their employees too. The inherent irony of some institutions providing their students with a means to improve their chances in life, while failing to lift some of their employees out of poverty cannot be lost.”
Evidently, this expectation is strongly felt by King’s students. On November 12, the KCL Living Wage campaign group demonstrated in the Strand campus, in solidarity with the cleaning staff. They did this to raise awareness of the issue in the university, and collect signatures on a petition addressed to Sir Rick Trainor, the Principal and President of King’s.
At the demonstration, Ali Sargent, second year Liberal Arts student and campaigner in the Living Wage campaign, told me about their intentions and upcoming plans:
“We’re having a few demos; we’re having one outside a board meeting soon, and we’re hoping to create public pressure to get them to raise the pay, but at the same time we’re hoping to increase unity and solidarity between staff and students. Academics are taking a huge pay cut at the moment; the UCU strike last week drew attention to this, and there will be another strike in December, as well as strikes in Further Education. Last week was a really good example of staff and student unity, and this can be another.”
Another student campaigner, David Hollings (second year Philosophy), told me that the campaign at King’s has gained a considerable amount of external support, with MPs Caroline Lucas and John McDonnell and Independent columnist Owen Jones, having tweeted the petition to their followers. There are also plans to get distinguished King’s alumni to endorse the campaign.
Students are also using KCLSU’s rant cards on mass, to express their disapproval of the university’s inaction on this issue, as the top numbering rants are discussed in an open forum with the Principal.
Many students have already begun to question why King’s has not yet extended this basic, ethical wage to all of its employees. In order to cut costs, professional services staff have long been outsourced to private companies. In 2010, King’s outsourced its cleaners to a company called Office & General (O&G), which means that the employment terms of these individuals are decided by the private company.
However, it is widely felt that King’s must still take responsibility for their workforce by ensuring that they are paid ethically by the contracted company, or by choosing to outsource solely to companies that are compliant with the Living Wage.
The Living Wage Foundation offers “phased accreditation” for institutions like King’s, which signed up to the Living Wage while already bound up in contracts. They also concede that “Rolling out the Living Wage across contracts can take some time”. However, they state clearly that they “expect the bulk of… contracts to move onto the Living Wage within two to three years”.
King’s has passed this point, and evidently still hasn’t taken decisive action. While perhaps this may not seem like a matter of urgency to the King’s Finance Committee members, for the people affected, every day is a struggle to make ends meet.
Sir Rick Trainor, Principle Professor of the university and a member of the King’s Finance Committee, has played a significant role in the London Leaders Program, and takes a very ethical position on promoting environmental sustainability within King’s. About this, he writes, “As a major education institution with environmental research interests, we have a role in promoting sustainability – we must practice what we preach.” King’s students may be encouraged by this, but also disillusioned that this ethical stance of practicing what we preach, doesn’t extend to safeguarding the welfare of employees within our own university.
You can sign the petition here: