Racial insensitivity and cultural appropriation have left members of the team feeling ‘ostracised’Written by Grace Duncan on 16th May 2018
Guild rules out Living Wage for staff
The Guild of Students at the University of Birmingham will not be implementing a Living Wage for staff, it was announced
The Guild of Students at the University of Birmingham will not be implementing a Living Wage for staff, it was announced.
The Guild said in a statement that the possibility of a Living Wage for staff had been rejected after a review had found that it would require an additional £95,000 for the 2017/18 year alone.
Guild President Ellie Keiller, who had promised a Living Wage for Guild staff in her campaign, said that she shared the news ‘with a heavy heart’ but had ‘learnt that part of my role as President is making and supporting decisions that are sometimes unpalatable, and this is certainly one of those times’.
“'It would require an additional £95,000'
Living Wage is calculated by estimating average living costs and is voluntary for employers. It is currently £8.75 per hour outside of London and £10.20 per hour within London.
This differs from legal minimum wages. For those over 25 years old, the minimum is £7.83 per hour. This was formerly known as the National Minimum Wage but is now called the National Living Wage after a government rebranding in 2016. However, it is still a legal minimum requirement rather than the recommended Living Wage.
“Living Wage is currently £8.75 per hour outside of London
Rates for those aged 24 and under are still called the National Minimum Wage. Those aged 21-24 are entitled to a minimum of £7.38 per hour, declining to £5.90 per hour for 18-20 year-olds.
Due to Guild rules, Redbrick was unable to speak to and quote Guild staff to discuss current rates of pay.
However, we spoke to students who have found work directly with the University, through the service Worklink, and found they were being paid around £10 per hour, more than the Living Wage. One student with a job through Worklink was being paid £10.55 per hour for a social media role in a university department. Another student was earning £9.56 per hour as a steward in the Bramall concert hall.
As the Guild is unable to introduce a Living Wage of £8.75, this suggests that Guild staff rates are less than the generous hourly wages of those employed directly by the University through Worklink.
The Guild is partially funded through university subsidies in addition to funds raised through its own commercial operations, like Joe’s Bar. Guild President Keiller confirmed to Redbrick that the money received from the university ‘must be spent on certain things that they want us [the Guild] to do’ like the student mentor scheme and the Vale fireworks display. However, Keiller added that ‘some of it is not ring-fenced and may go towards out core and student staff pay’.
“'The Guild already receives less funding from the University in comparison to other Russell Group Student Unions'
Keiller also told us that the Guild ‘asked the University for the money to pay the living wage last year and they agreed to give us the cost of the increase on our non-commercial areas’, like the student mentor scheme, but stated that this would be ‘for this year alone’.
‘They didn’t agree to give us the commercial side (such as our bar, security and catering staff) which is our larger portion of student staff spending’.
Furthermore, once the Guild decided that the Living Wage could not be given the green light, Keiller says the university ‘asked for their money back!’
The Guild already receives less funding from the University in comparison to other Russell Group Student Unions. The University of Birmingham’s contribution to the Guild for the year 2016/17 worked out at an average of £63.49 per student, over £20 less than the Russell Group average of £85.84 per student.
Without the additional funding from the University, the Guild highlighted in their statement that a Living Wage would ‘pose a significant financial risk to the Guild’ and would cause an increase in the cost of food, drink and tickets to Guild events like Fab n’ Fresh and Grad Ball.
This would have a ‘detrimental impact...on the student experience at Birmingham - which is ultimately what the Guild is here for’.
A student commenting on Keiller’s Facebook statement echoed this argument, saying he did not think a rise in costs ‘would sit well with many students, who [would be] paying more for a beer to fund another student’s wages’.
“'I understand the call for a Living Wage, but I don’t think it would be fair to fund that through raising prices in the Guild'
Elliot, a final year Sports and Materials Science student, similarly said ‘the student experience at the Guild is already expensive. Most other universities I have heard of charge up to £3 for entry to union nights and then drinks will be cheaper than they are at Fab too. I understand the call for a Living Wage, but I don’t think it would be fair to fund that through raising prices in the Guild.’
However, many other students felt that the University should help the Guild fund a Living Wage.
Grace, a third-year History student, said ‘I think the Guild should pay a living wage but I understand why it might be difficult considering the lack of funds that the Guild receives from the University.’
‘While valiant of Ellie Keiller to try, I am not surprised she failed.’
Several students contrasted the inability to support a Living Wage with the ongoing controversy surrounding the Vice Chancellor’s pay.
One student commented, ‘David Eastwood gets paid over £400,000 a year. The average UK salary is around the £27,000 mark. £400,000 wage - £95,000 to pay students a living wage = still a hell of a lot above the average national UK salary. Not much else needs to be said.’
Similarly, another student suggested that the size of the Vice Chancellor’s salary in comparison to the lack of funds for a Living Wage ‘says a lot about the university’s priorities’.
A former Joe’s Bar assistant, when told about the discrepancy in pay between those employed through Worklink and those at the Guild, along with the University’s refusal to fund a Living Wage, said ‘it doesn’t really surprise me!’
‘Juggling work and uni is hard enough, let alone when the pay is quite low.’