Labour Councillors have responded to a recently published league table of low pay levels at Cambridge colleges by urging them to commit to paying their employees a real living wage.
The Taylor Table, compiled by student campaigners and published to mark Living Wage Week, found that just 8 out of 31 Cambridge University colleges were paying staff the real living wage in July 2019. Clare and Homerton colleges performed worst of all, paying their lowest-paid employees just £7.70 per hour. At Gonville and Caius, almost 40% of employees were paid below £9.00 per hour with Corpus Christi not far behind at 37.5%.
Cambridge University signed up to pay its employees a Living Wage of £10 per hour in October 2018, effective from August this year, after a strong campaign by students, local activists and public figures including the city’s MP Daniel Zeichner.
Because colleges act as individual employers rather than part of a single system, this means that they can set their own pay levels – and for many of their employees that means significantly lower wages and a monthly struggle to pay the bills.
Cllr Anna Smith, Labour’s Executive Councillor for Communities whose portfolio includes the city’s anti-poverty strategy, recognised how much further there is to go before college staff are earning a living wage;
“I was thrilled to hear that the University of Cambridge submitted an application to be Real Living Wage accredited. I was even more thrilled to hear that, like the City Council, they decided to pay a Cambridge uplift to £10 an hour, above the Real Living Wage. I congratulate the university on its decision, and also the decision made by some of the colleges to pay at least the real living wage to all their staff.
“But it’s so disappointing to see such slow progress, in terms of the number of colleges making the same commitments as Cambridge University. We estimate that 15% of people in the city are paid below the real living wage. In a city such as Cambridge, where the cost of living is high, that is nothing short of a tragedy. If every college committed to paying the Real Living Wage for all its workers, we’d make a big dent in that percentage. I urge all colleges to play their part in tackling poverty in Cambridge, to follow Cambridge University’s example, and to make paying at least the Real Living Wage an urgent priority.
“And for those colleges who are already exploring it, I want to encourage them in their work – I know they will find that it really is worthwhile, for them, for their reputation, and for their staff.
If anyone wants any information about how to become a living wage employer, Cambridge is very unusual in having a Living Wage officer at the City Council (introduced by Cambridge Labour councillors when they came to power in 2014), and I strongly encourage employers looking to make the switch to get in touch.”
Daniel Zeichner, Labour’s candidate for Cambridge in the General Election, added his voice to calls for colleges to do the right thing and commit to paying all employees a living wage;
“We live in a great City – but it needs to be great for everyone. That’s why the real Living Wage matters so much. Labour’s recent commitment to introducing a £10 minimum wage, including for under 18s, will raise standards across the UK and effectively end the youth rate which means so many young people continue to struggle.
“The evidence is clear. Ending low pay isn’t just good for workers, it helps employers because absenteeism falls and fewer staff leave. Higher pay for low-paid people boosts the local economy and reduces the cost of in-work benefits to the tax-payer. It is a win-win policy, that will be pursued by the next Labour Government, but in the meantime, we want colleges to put their house in order and end low pay.”