The University of Southampton has become the latest employer since the start of the higher education pay dispute to say that it will raise the salary of its lowest-paid employees.
However, although UNISON has welcomed the news, it is disappointed that the university has not signed up to being an accredited living wage employer and is at present only making the wage rise ‘discretionary’.
The issue of the living wage was first brought to the university’s attention last October, following an initial freedom of information request by the city’s living wage campaign in August.
The university said that it would re-evaluate its position on the living wage – but only after the resolution of the 2013-14 pay claim.
However, even though UNISON and its fellow unions remain in dispute on that, months of campaigning have now see the university propose its own living wage supplement.
Rather than become a living wage-accredited employer though, the university has announced plans to raise the salaries of around 200 employees with a ’discretionary subsidy’.
This payment has certain conditions attached to it that all three local unions, UNISON, UCU and Unite say are not acceptable.
The ‘discretionary’ nature of the payment means that it could be removed at any point, while casual staff and those on temporary contracts are excluded, leaving the union concerned that this could lead to further casualisation of the workforce.
UNISON branch secretary Anna Lyon said: “While we appreciate the University of Southampton’s genuine move to support the lowest-paid staff, what our members really need is a living wage they can depend on. The university can afford it.”
And the union’s regional head of higher education Mike Wilson added: “We are clearly disappointed that an institution such as the University of Southampton does not see the benefit of signing up become a living wage-accredited employer to ensure that all staff working on campus receive fair pay.
“Other universities have recognised not only the immediate benefits for those staff who receive the living wage, but the added value to communities and to the reputation of those universities that are living wage employers.
“We hope that the university will consider moving towards full accreditation, although we welcome this initially as a first step.”
UNISON will continue to campaign to ensure that no one is paid below the living wage and seek an agreement to cover all staff who are working on the campus.