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Oxford Living Wage Campaign demands COVID-19 worker protection

The Oxford Living Wage Campaign, a student organization for worker justice at the University of Oxford as well as its colleges, has released an open letter calling for better protection of workers by the University and constituent colleges during the disruption caused by COVID-19.

On April 9th the Campaign shared its open letter to Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson, with the intention of gathering signatures from the public. In the letter the Campaign criticizes a lack of action by the main University to protect all segments of its workforce from job insecurity and high-risk work. It argues that workers contracted from third-party employers, zero-hour contract workers, migrant workers, essential workers, and workers with caring responsibilities are excluded from official measures at the moment.

Moreover, the open letter identifies unique issues associated with protecting workers across the collegiate university, as individual Colleges are not currently bound by the University to follow official worker-protection measures. According to information obtained by the Living Wage Campaign, while some colleges have been paying workers for their usual hours despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, others did not take advantage of government furlough schemes and have made “no financial provisions” for casual workers receiving no or little pay.

The open letter organizes the Campaign’s demands into the tripartite slogan: “Tell Us, Pay Us, Protect Us”. In a press release, the Campaign summarizes their three core demands as: “better communication between University/colleges and workers”, “safeguarded pay, benefits and job security, including for those on variable/zero-hour contracts”, and “safe working conditions and immigration support”.

According to the open letter, the decision to publicly petition the University became necessary after aforementioned reports of unsafe working conditions and precarious employment situations at Oxford surfaced. The Oxford Living Wage Campaign has told Cherwell that they have heard from University and college workers who are struggling to afford food and housing as a result of dramatic cuts in hours, as well as workers pressured to show up despite having underlying health conditions which make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. In addition, some cleaners employed at the University have told the Oxford Living Wage Campaign that they are not provided with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), making their work unsafe.

Angela Boyle of the Oxford Living Wage Campaign comments that “the university has always relied on an underpaid, under-supported and precarious workforce for its survival, with the burden falling most heavily on migrant workers and women. The current crisis has just thrown this into relief.”

As of April 9th, the open letter has gathered 42 main signatories. These include four Oxford City councillors, Oxford SU Class Act and LGBTQ+ Campaigns, multiple trade unions such as Oxford UCU and UNISON, Co-Chairs of Oxford & District Labour Party and the Young Greens of England and Wales, Oxford Feminist Society, and a group from other universities such as the Justice for Cleaners campaigns at LSE and KCL. In addition to calling for more signatures, the Oxford Living Wage Campaign is also calling for individuals to email the Vice-Chancellor and Chair of the Conference of Colleges to strengthen the petition. The open letter has also been sent to University senior administrators, division heads, Pro-Vice-Chancellors, and all college heads.

Cherwell has reached out to the University for comment.

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