Early this year, Oxford joined the growing list of UK Living Wage universities. If local campaigners have their way, Victoria will be New Zealand’s first.
At Oxford, students led the Living Wage campaign. At Vic, students have joined current and retired academics, general staff, cleaners, alumni, TEU, the Service and Food Workers Union, and others under the Living Wage for Vic banner.
Becoming a Living Wage university means paying the official New Zealand Living Wage rate, currently $19.25 an hour, to all the University workforce. A relatively small number of directly-employed staff at Victoria are paid less than the Living Wage. But some, including library workers and tutors, are on the minimum wage of $14.25. Workers employed via contractors, like cleaners, work through the night for poverty wages.
The number of UK Living Wage universities is growing because staff, students, and communities back this vision. People want to work and study at Living Wage universities. Research shows paying the Living Wage improves morale and productivity, and it’s simply the right thing to do.
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Wellington City Council was the first NZ council to vote to become a Living Wage council. Hundreds of council workers have had their wages lifted in a staged implementation of the Living Wage. There’s a long way to go, but the Coolest Little Capital is on the way to becoming the Fairest Little Capital. It makes sense for Vic to follow this example for the thousands of businesses on whom students depend for their income.
And the Living wage is a neat fit with the University’s strategy. “Victoria recently made a commitment to ‘inclusivity, equity and diversity’ in our strategic plan,” says TEU member and English lecturer, Dr Dougal McNeill. “It can’t escape anyone’s notice that there are more Māori and Pasifika staff members in our very lowest paid jobs than in our highest paid positions. Committing to a Living Wage is one way of making real our commitment to civic engagement and equity. It’s also a way of opening the University to a future generation of students: homes where parents earn a Living Wage will have more time and resources to foster learning.”
Our students value the hard work of our cleaners, campus care, tutors and library staff. I have confidence they will stand with us every step of the way until Victoria becomes New Zealand’s first Living Wage university. The vast majority of students work to make ends meet, largely on low wages. We regularly have hardship cases from students forced to drop papers because they can’t scrape through working endless hours. There are so many barriers to tertiary education, and shifting people off poverty wages is one way of tearing those down.
The library worker
Library staff are amongst those who don’t receive the Living Wage. The support we provide for staff and students is vital to their research and academic achievement. We value helping students and staff, but it’s hard providing excellent service when we feel undervalued. For library staff members with children, tough decisions have to be made—can we budget for a winter jacket, or shoes? Decisions like this shouldn’t have to be made by parents working full-time.
I came from Ethiopia as a refugee. Now I clean the Te Aro campus. This place is dirty and dusty and the cleaning job is very important. Without this place being cleaned, no one can work here. We need decent pay for a very important job. I know students and staff already showed support for the Living Wage and we thank you for that. I’m looking forward to the day this university becomes a Living Wage employer and pays cleaners and other low-paid workers the pay they deserve.
It takes many people’s labour to teach university students—lecturers, library staff, technology support staff, tutors, cleaners, food workers, security staff and administrative staff. All these workers help me teach students, and yet a good number of them are not paid the Living Wage they deserve. Just as we work together to support students in their academic endeavours, we must work together to ensure our whole community is paid a Living Wage.
How you can back the Living Wage for Vic campaign
- Sign a postcard—available from the VUWSA offices, or the Hub from 11.15–2.15 Tuesday, and place it in boxes in the Hub or VUWSA.
- Sign an online postcard here: http://teu.ac.nz/issues/the-living-wage/vuw-living-wage/
- Tick the box to get active in the campaign.
- Like the Living Wage for Vic Facebook page and look out for events.