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July 31, 2017 | by  | in Opinion |
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An Open Letter to the Vice-Chancellor

From the Living Wage For Vic Campaign

 

Dear Professor Guilford,

Your responses to questions on the living wage in the Vice-Chancellor Forums have been disappointing to the large and growing number of staff, students, alumni, and other stakeholders who support our campaign for the living wage at Victoria. Your responses did not show consideration of this support, and in some important respects presented the living wage in an inaccurate or misleading light. We are publishing this open letter to respond to your statements and to ensure the university community has a balanced understanding of what the living wage would mean for Victoria.

 

“We do want to get the twenty-odd people in question out of 2500 employees onto the living wage.”

We applaud this commitment and it is good news if there are only around 20 Victoria University employees on rates less than the living wage.

 

“Staff have shown a commitment to it through lump sum wage increases and the university will go along with that for the next year or two or three, which is what it will take to ensure everyone is paid at the rate of the living wage.”

The living wage needs to happen now. Victoria University employs experienced workers on hourly rates as low as $15.87 — just $0.12 more than the minimum wage. A commitment to achieve the living wage in the next three years, while experienced staff are on poverty rates of pay close to the minimum wage, is just not good enough.

 

“We will not sign up to the formal living wage programme or capital letter Living Wage.”

There has been no call for Victoria University to “sign up” to a “formal programme”. The call from the Living Wage Movement, from the TEU, and from thousands of supporters, has been for Victoria to make a commitment to the principle of the living wage, and ensuring all directly employed workers are on at least the living wage is a good first step.

 

“I won’t hand the university chequebook over to a group of people who I don’t know.”

Nobody is asking for an open cheque. Paying a living wage is a voluntary commitment. Further, the living wage is calculated in a very transparent manner. The first New Zealand living wage rate was identified through independent research by Charles Waldegrave and Dr Peter King at the Anglican Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit. They are experts in their field. The rate has increased each year by the average movement in wages. The methodology is similar to that used around the world where the living wage has been adopted. The UK living wage rate is acceptable, not only to the many universities which have adopted the living wage, but to over 3000 UK businesses and 50% of UK councils.

 

“I don’t want to spend money that might require us to raise student fees or put us in the wrong financial position, for example below the 3% surplus threshold at which statutory managers come in.”

Isn’t this scaremongering? The impression given is that it would require vast amounts of money to lift the lowest paid directly employed university employees to the living wage. That is simply not the case. It would require a relatively small amount to take this first step — less than the salary of one academic. It is very affordable and will certainly not bring in the statutory managers! Further, the threat of raising fees is an empty one. Victoria University already raises fees by the maximum each year.  

Paying the living wage to directly employed workers at Victoria University is affordable, and the right thing to do.

 

Professor Guilford, please listen to the call from the wider community to ensure Victoria University pays all staff enough to live on. Please follow the example of other universities like Oxford, and the Wellington City Council. And please ensure the vision and values of Victoria University are not just lip service.

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