“They don’t consider us”: Cambridge staff underpaid

Akshay Karia 23 January 2014

An investigation by CUSU’s living wage campaign has found that the University of Cambridge pays 1000 employees less than the living wage. Bursars from the most incriminated colleges have spoken to The Cambridge Student offering reassurance that cases of ‘underpayment’ will be resolved.

The living wage is an informal benchmark of £7.65 per hour set by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University. It is commonly accepted as the amount needed for workers to live a decent life.

Earlier this week, TCS reported that over 1000 employees at the University of Cambridge are paid less than the living wage, with King’s paying 123 staff under the living wage, Clare 85 and the University, as a separate employer, 83. Only Homerton, Hughes Hall and St Catharine’s reported no staff paid under the benchmark.

It later emerged that Homerton does pay temporary ‘casual’ workers under £7.65 an hour; this information was not initially disclosed to the Living Wage Campaign.

An official spokesman of the University of Cambridge clarified that the “majority of jobs below the living wage are generally trainee grads or individuals on zero hours contracts – i.e. they work when there is some work to do, but there is no obligation to provide a set number of hours of work in any period.” Robinson employs 99 staff in this way, King’s college employs 94, and the University as a separate employer 343.

TCS interviewed two catering staff from one of the lowest-paying colleges, both paid under the living wage. One said “we love this college…a lot of the time we are here”, but they continued “they don’t consider us; they do what they like.”

When asked whether they expect salaries to improve, the catering staff added “I don’t think so…it’s more than enough if we have a job.” However, Paul Warren, the bursar at Clare, claimed that his college “has one of the most generous bonus schemes in Cambridge.”

He continued, “It is college policy that all staff should earn more than the living wage… we are confident that because of bonus and other benefits all staff are compensated far in excess of the minimum wage over a full year.”

TCS also contacted Keith Carne, the First Bursar at King’s College, who explained that “the council at King’s is looking into salary levels.” Pending approval by the college’s governing body, changes will be incorporated “in the budget for 2014-15.”

Barney McCay, who runs the University’s Living Wage Campaign, told TCS that “the campaign’s really picking up momentum and loads of people are getting involved. As the FOIs have shown, some colleges have a long way to go. So we’ll be stepping up the pressure on colleges and the University to make sure they become living wage employers as quickly as possible.”