Cardiff University’s Students’ Union (CUSU) has risked alienating the members it seeks to serve by continuing to avoid paying the majority of its student staff the living wage despite renewed financial pressure being put on students.
In July’s Budget the Chancellor George Osborne announced a mandatory living wage for all over-25s from April 2016.
However Osborne will also phase out the non-repayable maintenance grant given to students to help pay for essentials such as rent and food, to be replaced by a maintenance loan by September 2016.
And in further developments the Home Secretary Theresa May outlined plans for a crackdown on visas that will make it harder for international students to come and study at Cardiff.
While the Students’ Union has come out strongly against the phasing out of the grant and the new rules on visas (more on page 7), there has been no such statement on Osborne’s decision not to include under-25s in his mandatory living wage.
When queried as to whether the introduction of the living wage by April 2016 would affect costs for students, a Union spokesperson said: “it will not have an impact on prices for students as all permanent employees of the Union are already paid more than the Living Wage Foundation’s minimum level of £7.85 and few of the Union’s student workers are aged 25 or over.”
Most students employed by the Union are on temporary contracts, meaning that unless they are over the age of 25, it appears that they will not be paid the living wage come April despite the significant financial pressures placed on students by the latest round of government cuts.
When asked why the Students’ Union were not taking such a strong stance against the non-inclusion of under-25s in the living wage Students’ Union President Claire Blakeway told Gair Rhydd that “the Students’ Union acknowledges concerns about the government not paying under-25s the living wage.
“It was something I raised with (Cardiff Central MP) Jo Stevens when I met with her and she strongly opposes these changes. I feel it is unfair to discriminate on age.”
Despite Blakeway’s opposition to the changes, the Union has not taken a stance on the issue.
This is the latest in a long line of controversies over the introduction of the living wage at the Students’ Union.
In April, a Gair Rhydd investigation found that the Students’ Union would not pay a living wage to its student staff without legislative intervention, but would “look to introduce it in the future” despite offering no timeframe and the Living Wage Foundation denying a ‘student living wage’ being in the pipeline.
This came after the Student Senate voted in favour of becoming a living wage employer in 2013. Indeed, all full-time staff of the Union do receive at least the living wage, but temporary staff do not.
Speaking to Gair Rhydd, Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens backed the notion that the living wage should be accessible to students: “Trebling of tuition fees, conversion of grants to loans and now under 25s being exempt from the increase to the national minimum wage announced in the budget. It’s really important that students stand up for their rights.
“It’s a tough time to be a student” she added.
Cardiff University Students’ Union were unable to prepare a statement in response to the content of this article before Gair Rhydd’s print deadline.