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Reflections on today’s event on the Living Wage campaign

Listening to Liam Byrne talk today on why all staff deserve to be paid a living wage I was struck by the fact that Birmingham was once called “…the best governed city in the world” – acknowledged by many as somewhere that not only fulfilled its civic duty but exceeded it. It also reminded me of how I felt when I joined the University, nearly 10 years ago – how after a long period in the private sector I felt genuinely pleased that I would be joining an organisation with such a long and proud tradition of treating the people who worked and studied here well.

However, ten years on, I now find myself being asked to strike – action that is never taken lightly – because the University refuses to be an accredited Living Wage employer.

The figures speak for themselves – Liam Byrne explained that in August, the foodbanks in his constituency (Hodge Hill) had absolutely no food left and that the rise of foodbanks was a moral emergency that we could no longer ignore. He also explained that in the West Midlands region – 264,000 people are paid less than the nine pounds an hour most people need to survive on, and yet Birmingham has one of the lowest numbers of Living Wage employers.

It wasn’t all gloom – I was pleased to hear Liam suggest that this could be our chance (the University and the wider region) to take a stand – that it is often “the good people in the public sector” who, as perhaps the Cadburys and Chamberlains of this world used to, take a lead. Wouldn’t it be great then if the University was to lead by example, to make a stance against poverty wages and by committing to accreditation ensure that the people who work here no longer have to rely on foodbanks.

The campaign for Living Wage Accreditation is also fundamentally a campaign for fair pay for Edgbaston Park Hotel staff. If the University were to become Accredited, then staff employed by the Hotel (a company owned by the University, but where new staff are paid only £8.21/hour and have received a mere 1p pay rise this year) would also need to be paid the same as everyone else on campus. We want to see an end to outsourcing on campus, and all staff should be brought in-house.

Vote YES for Strike Action, to send a strong message to the University of Birmingham senior managers that we will no longer accept their imposition of low pay on the support staff of this wealthy campus.

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