The University of Birmingham has agreed to increase the wages of its lowest paid staff following months of protests and strikes on campus.
Officials announced it will pay the ‘living wage’ from August 1 this year. The current rate is £7.65 outside London, while the minimum wage is £6.31.
Student protest group Defend Education Birmingham named the living wage as one of their key demands during two occupations of buildings on campus, which saw angry clashes between students, staff and police.
And union members staged walk-outs over the national higher education pay dispute and called for management to increase wages for the university’s lowest paid workers. The university said the agreement was reached as a result of local negotiations and was not related to the national pay dispute.
The announcement was made in an email to all staff from the university’s pro-chancellor Adam Tickell, who also tweeted the decision.
He said: “The university and the branch executives of Unison and Unite are pleased to report that the current dispute over the 2013 pay settlement has been resolved. The branch executives of Unison and Unite will recommend to their members that no further industrial action be taken in relation to the 2013 pay settlement.
“For its part, the university has committed to matching the current rate of the Living Wage for the year from August 1, 2014; and to match the then current level for the year from August 1, 2015.
“Both sides are committed to early and constructive discussions to reach agreement on the settlement for 2014.”
Union reps stressed that the agreement did not make the university a living wage employer as the commitment was only for two years.
UNISON branch secretary Matt Raine said: “UNISON welcomes this significant step towards taking the lowest paid staff out of poverty pay.
"Many of our lowest paid members have been struggling to pay their gas and electric bills and to put food on the table. We hope the university will now go forwards and meet its social and moral obligations in full and become an accredited Living Wage employer.
"We would like to thank the large numbers of students, members of the public, councillors and MPs who have supported us, in particular Councillor Karen McCarthy, Selly Oak District chair, who came and listened to our members on both days we were on strike and who has supported us throughout.”
Student campaigners hailed the agreement as a “victory” but said they would continue to apply pressure.
Their first week-long occupation of the university’s senate chambers was broken up by police and security on November 28, and a second 12-day occupation ended on February 4. Five students were suspended after a national protest took place on January 29.
Academics, politicians and artists including Noam Chomsky, Clare Short and filmmaker Ken Loach signed an open letter describing the university’s decision to suspend the students as “at odds with freedom of speech”.
A spokesperson for Defend Education Birmingham said: “This victory shows the necessity of strong student and staff campaigns to force the university into doing what is right.
“The tactics used to get this concession, such as strikes and occupations, need to continue to force the university into committing to the living wage permanently.”