Heaven and Hell: the SJC gulf

Differences in staff living conditions in Oxford were laid bare this week after St John’s scouts described being “completed separated from the people at the top” and knowing “there is no expense spared in the SCR”.

Cleaning staff at the college are paid just 41p above minimum wage, while College President Sir Michael Scholar was thjs year given £7,499 to spend on ‘entertainment’, defined by the University as “the provision of food, drink or other hospitality”.

Individual tutors at St John’s are also given an average of £358 each per year, also to spend on entertainment.

To pay the average St John’s scout a living wage of £7.20 an hour would cost the college approximately £1107.60, just over one seventh of the President’s entertainment budget.

One scout said: “My husband has been unemployed for three years and doesn’t get any benefits. I’m the breadwinner in the house and it’s difficult to get all the bills paid every month. In fact, quite a few of us are breadwinners for our households.”

Another scout said that they were aware of the college’s high spending: “I’ve worked in the alumni office, and the money there is just a joke. There is no expense spared at all. And in the SCR it’s the same. They might think we don’t realise, but we’re not stupid. We know SJC and Christ Church are the richest colleges. We see the food they have, cooked by their own chef. I see the deliveries of King Alfred prawns, for goodness’ sake. Let me tell you, it’s not the same as what you get in Hall or what we get.”

The gulf in perks and lack of recognition was echoed by the scouts reporters spoke to. One woman explained: “We’re completely separated from the people up at the top. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have our voice heard. It’s ridiculous to use an excuse that they can’t afford it. 50p an hour is a lot to us, but nothing to the college.”

Another continued: “I work with the students first hand, and they’re always lovely and I think they realise we work hard and they appreciate it.” However, one scout voiced her concerns that “it is not the same for staff. I don’t think they realise how much we do. We don’t see them as much, but even so, I would like to be recognised more, by the people up at the top.”

The scouts emphasised that the living wage would “be a really big difference”. A scout said: “I think we’d feel more valued”. Another agreed: “It is annoying that they’re the richest college, and everyone knows it. But we do like it here, and if we didn’t we wouldn’t have been here so long. Having said that, we haven’t had a wage rise for two or three years, and so what was appealing a while ago isn’t so appealing now. I think it would be nice for someone from the top to come and see how hard we work and how little reward we get for it.”

St John’s JCR President David Messling is working with college officials as he prepares to raise the issue at the college’s governing body next week. He said that, on behalf of the JCR, he plans to seek a “review of college employment practises”.

St John’s Principal Bursar Professor Andrew Parker said: ”It is important in terms of compatibilities across colleges to take into account pension scheme arrangements. At St John’s there is no employee contribution.”

Meanwhile, at Pembroke JCR’s Sunday meeting, a motion was passed to “send a delegation of the JCR committee to meet with the authorities of College” to discuss raising college scouts’ £6.63 hourly wage.

Caspar Donnison, who proposed the motion, said: “I proposed the motion at this time because I saw the campaign lifting off in Oxford and felt an opportunity to strengthen the movement in order to achieve a Living Wage not just in Pembroke but across all colleges, the university and the city”.

The motion was received favourably by college officials. College Bursar John Church said that he and the Home Bursar have “arranged to meet the JCR to discuss the matter further”, adding that the JCR presence on almost all College committees “provides every opportunity for such matters to be reviewed in the best way possible”.