Living Wage fever hits Oxford

A number of Oxford JCRs will attempt to push their colleges toward Living Wage accreditation this term, prompted by last month’s announcement by Hertford.

Representatives of eight JCRs have confirmed to the The Oxford Student their desire to become accredited employers, with more expected to follow in the coming weeks. These JCRs are Exeter, Trinity, Oriel, Wadham, St Hugh’s, St Catherine’s, Corpus Christi, and Worcester.

In most of these colleges, JCR Charities Officers and Presidents will raise the issue at JCR meetings early in Hilary Term, before attempting to negotiate with College authorities.

Hertford College won praise in December when it was confirmed by the Living Wage Foundation as an accredited employer. According to OUSU Charities VP Ruth Meredith, accreditation means that an employer has “made a public commitment to pay the Living Wage to its staff now and in the future”.

The Living Wage is a rate of pay, calculated by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University as the minimum income required for an acceptable standard of living. It currently stands at £7.85 an hour, considerably higher than the legally enforced minimum wage of £6.50 an hour for over 21 year-olds.

Eleanor Grange, former Environment and Ethics Officer at St Hugh’s, expressed hope that “Hertford’s decision to accredit will show the way for all colleges”.

Grande added: “Perhaps it will even act as an expedient to college authorities at St Hugh’s, who are already discussing how to start paying scouts a Living Wawge here.”

Corpus Christi JCR President Bethany Currie showed similar optimism, describing Living Wage accreditation as “high on the committee’s agenda for the coming term”.

Currie continued: “It’s great to hear of Hertford’s accreditation and here’s hoping lots of colleges follow suit!”

Wadham JCR is currently awaiting a decision from college authorities, after an open letter encouraging Living Wage accreditation was circulated through the JCR last term and collected around 230 signatures. Charities Officer Henriette Willberg commented: “We have lots of student and staff support so fingers crossed.”

Alexandra Grime, Charities Officer at St Catherine’s, confirmed accreditation as “definitely something [St Catherine’s JCR] would consider”.

OUSU Charities VP Ruth Meredith stated: “We’re currently at a really exciting stage in the OUSU Oxford Living Wage Campaign. Not only has Hertford become the first ever Oxford College to accredit, but the decision was a result of the actions of students and staff at the college.”

Meredith continued: “I’m confident that the campaign can transform the momentum we’re seeing in an unprecedented number of colleges into accreditations, and change Oxford’s tacit acceptance of poverty wages.”

Hertford’s accreditation last month followed a campaign by the JCR, in which 200 students signed an open letter to the College Principal, Will Hutton, former editor of The Observer.

Joshua Platt, who served as Hertford JCR President during much of this campaign, commented: “We always hoped that it would be a domino effect after one college took the step, so now that Hertford has accredited I expect others to follow suit.

“This really does need to be a university wide movement. When Conference of Colleges meet, we need every single Principal standing up and saying: “My students have been campaigning hard for this – what are we going to do about it?””

A similar sentiment was expressed by the Oxford Living Wage Campaign, with co-chair Sam Couldrick stating: “The news of Hertford’s accreditation was very encouraging, and we are hopeful that there will be more to come very soon.

“This is now as good a chance as any to make real, long-lasting change. That’s what accreditation stands for.”