It is now over two years since UCL agreed to implement the London Living Wage (LLW) in September 2010. At the time, UCL was placed under a great deal of pressure by student demonstrations, an open letter from academic staff, and damaging press attention. UCL committed to paying the LLW; however, the committment was a only the most basic one: that UCL would implement the LLW when contracts came up for renewal, in August 2013. It also proved hollow in summer 2011, when UCL outsourced the remaining in-house cleaners, the very process that had led to such low wages. The Living Wage has risen twice in this time, from £7.80 to £8.55; UCL has ‘uplifted’ the wages of the cleaners twice also, but the cleaners working for Office & General are still only paid £7.10.
On 6 November, I sent the email below to the Provost, Malcolm Grant, asking why UCL was continuing to wait to bring the cleaners to the LLW.
I am sure you will be aware that yesterday [5 November] the London Living Wage was increased from £8.30 to £8.55. The Living Wage is receiving a great deal of attention at the moment, with the Parliamentary opposition coming out strongly in favour of the idea, and the KPMG report that 4.82 million people are paid below the Living Wage making headlines in the press.
I have received information from UCL Estates that Office & General cleaners are paid £7.10, and ISS cleaners £7.80. Both have received ‘uplifts’ since 2010, and it is my understanding that these are paid by UCL. I have also been told that there will be no further increases until August 2013, leaving O&G cleaners on £1.45 less, and ISS cleaners 75p less than the LLW per hour, for a further nine months.
I am writing to you personally to ask that UCL cease waiting until contracts are renewed, and ‘uplift’ the cleaners’ wages to the current LLW rate now. As I’m sure you know, the LLW is designed to keep workers and their families out of poverty. UCL’s finances are healthy, with a surplus of almost £24m last year. KPMG suggests that paying living wage rates is good for business, as well as good for society. You will remember that UCL’s own academics stated that UCL was ‘storing up problems that will be paid for later by society at large’ by failing to pay the LLW.
I will be raising this at the meeting UCLU has with Estates on Thursday. However, I thought it prudent to ask you personally that UCL ‘uplift’ wages to the LLW now.
Education and Campaigns Officer
University College London Union
Since that email, I have had a meeting with the UCL Estates team, and with Professor Grant himself. In both meetings, I was told that UCL was honouring its commitment, and that they are in line with other employers. However, Birkbeck and SOAS implemented the LLW within a year; the Living Wage Foundation suggests that staff should be paid the LLW within 6 months of the change in the LLW. There was no acknowledgement that the commitment should be improved, and that by delaying UCL is failing in its moral duty, if not in the commmitment it made.
The campaign continues to force UCL to implement the London Living Wage, almost five years after it began.