Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Making the case for the Living Wage at national pay talks

Senate House cleaners - don't mess!
After last week's NEC started to get going I went eight flights of stairs to meet with UCEA.for pay talks alongside the UCU, the EIS, UNITE and the GMB.

A key part of our claim this year is a cost of living increase plus catch up for the recent years of pay freeze (effectively a 7% claim) but we are also pushing for a commitment to the Living Wage which I'll focus on here. The formal press release was out this week and is taken up in the Times Higher Ed (we immediately rejected their 0.8% offer).

As Chair of a branch that successfully won our campaign for the Living Wage at London Met, I'm familiar with the arguments so I put the case this time to national employers.

Employers tend to think of their bottom lines first so I referred them to a well documented business case for a Living Wage, developed at Queen Mary's University. Well worth a read.

I also referred to a very a compelling moral case for ending poverty pay on campus, based on a UNISON report into the effects of low pay on UNISON’s members families. Not having time to help children with education should make a VC think twice, surely:

I really regret not being there for my daughter, I was always on split shifts. I think I didn’t push her enough with her education. She never needed for anything but I think I should have helped her on that (p19).

I reminded the employers that just because they might have outsourced their cleaning or catering companies, it doesn't mean they're outside of the campus and they should commit to paying all contracted out staff the Living Wage as well as those few on the bottom of the spinal points.

The question of 'affordability' came up. The obvious answer to that is of course: "If London Met can afford it ...."

Good publicity case: I pointed to the infamous bad press that UCL's Malcolm (not our Malcolm at London Met, the other one) received for not implementing the Living Wage despite rewarding himself a hefty six figure sum himself. How unfortunate those headlines might appear when all those VCs (average salary of £216k) claim not to have enough spare cash to pay the Living Wage.

There is no formal response yet to our claim for The Living Wage. Their Board are meeting this week I believe to discuss it further, so now might be a good time to start a local campaign to pressure your local management to sign up to this commitment and make this real.

Go to the new UNISON / NUS Living Wage website with a campaign tool kit and get stuck in!

When we won the Living Wage at London Met part of our strategy wasn't for the usual negotiating team to argue it with the VC. Instead we arranged a delegation from the cleaners, caterers and security guards to tell the VC what it is like to struggle on the minimum wage in London. Maybe it'd be good for a reserved seat member to join us in future?

There is an argument about whether we can or even should try to get the Living Wage agreed through national negotiations rather than local agreements. Your thoughts on this would be appreciated as it's a subtle argument to be had, especially from an organising perspective.

Let me know how your campaign is going and what sort of response your employer has given you to - I heard a rumour about Sheffield and some movement from South Bank? Talks at Cambridge are ongoing are they? If you want advice or to share your experiences please do get in touch.

Any other ideas on making the employers' realize we need a fair pay rise this year?


  1. There is an argument about whether we can or "even should try to get the Living Wage agreed through national negotiations rather than local agreements".

    Are they even counter posed? I cant see how as UNISON we could justify putting in any pay claim that lowest paid members would be on less then LW, nationally or locally.

  2. I agree with you Andrew. The argument runs that pay talks do not cover contracted out staff. Our claim insists on the employers only contracting out to companies that pay the Living Wage, which some argue is outside the remit of the JNCHES pay negotiations. It's not one I agree with, obviously.

    From an organising point of view, it's important that we win our claim by organising workers and put pressure from below - as well as make claims 'from above' - so that we can organise workers into our union around that claim.

    The danger of an 'easy win' means no one joins the union, and therefore other things don't get taken up. I know of at least one 'Living Wage Employer' in HE that does not have strong union branch and over the years has not increased the'Living Wage' so that the minimum wage has almost caught up!

    Without unionisation the Living Wage can be a quick, and possibly short-lived 'win'. This emphasises the need to build local campaigns as well.