Liam Byrne MP and the Real Living Wage – UoB UNISON welcomes MP’s decision to turn down a Honorary Position at the University of Birmingham

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An important step was recently taken by local MP Liam Byrne, who refused to accept the offer of an Honorary Senior Research Fellowship position at the University of Birmingham, explaining that his decision was based on the fact that the University is not an accredited living wage employer.

The MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill noted in his letter rejecting the offer of the post, how in the context of growing levels of poverty and food bank use across the region, it was unacceptable that organisations with the size and income of UoB continued to refuse to become accredited by the Living Wage Foundation. Byrne stated that through an inquiry he’d found fewer than 1 in 5 public organisations across the West Midlands are accredited.

The rate to which Byrne is referring is the independently set Real Living Wage, which is recalculated every year to account for changes in the cost of living. Former Chancellor, George Osborne, deliberately confused this conversation in 2015 by cynically appropriating the language in his rebranding of the minimum wage, which is now called the ‘National Living Wage’. This was an attempt to undermine the successful campaigns of the Living Wage Foundation, which had been gathering momentum in the face of the Conservatives’ austerity programme and the prolonged wage stagnation which continues to affect most workers across the UK. 

UoB Unison welcomes Liam Byrne’s decision and his drawing attention to UoB’s reluctance to become an accredited Living Wage employer, as the committee has long challenged the university to do so, placing this demand at the centre of annual pay negotiations. Although the University has kept pace with the real living wage rate for directly employed staff over the last few years, it has declined to seek accreditation as it increasingly relies on contractors and outsourced staff.

This situation has become even more acute over the last few weeks, when it was revealed that staff at the new Hotel and Conference Park, a ‘wholly-owned subsidiary company’ owned and managed by the university, have received a pay rise of just 1p, and are only receiving the minimum wage rate of £8.21p/hour as of April 1st 2019, rather than the updated national living wage rate of £9p/hour.

UoB Unison has recently launched a petition demanding that staff at the Hotel be brought back in house and receive the same pay and terms and conditions as those directly employed by the university. It also calls on other local MPs and Councillors to endorse Byrne’s position, and to call on the university to become both and accredited Living Wage employer, and to end the outsourcing of staff in an attempt to gradually drive down overall terms and conditions.