About 1,000 staff at the university and its colleges are paid less than the ‘living wage’, judged by the Living Wage Foundation to be £7.20 an hour outside London. The National Minimum Wage is currently £6.08 for workers aged over 21.
Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband held a breakfast meeting with Labour students, who want the university to pay cleaners, waiters and other low-paid staff at least £7.20 an hour.
The Labour MP told the News: “It’s significant that Labour students should vote to run their number one campaign this year about the living and working conditions of others and not themselves.”
Student Richard Johnson, chairman of Cambridge Universities Labour Club, said: “A lot of the colleges are aware of being perceived as exploiting workers, although we are not saying they are doing that.
“They put on enormous banquets for students, which of course are great for them, but at the same time are paying these staff low wages. The colleges are conscious of that and the way they are seen.”
The 20-year-old added: “My hope is that by the end of this term there will be at least one college which will to commit to it.
“I do not think that is unreasonable. The colleges know it will be great publicity to be the first.”
Cambridge University itself, with a top pay grade of £131,395 a year, has 112 staff paid less than the ‘living wage’, according to a Freedom of Information request by the campaign last year.
A spokesman for the university would not comment directly on whether it would sign up to the living wage pledge, saying its pay scales were “derived from national pay bargaining” for universities across the country.
He added: “The minimum point of the university scale has just increased to £11,175 (a year). The university pay scales are above the national minimum wage.
“The impact of this year’s pay increase is that an individual on the lowest point of the scale would have enjoyed a higher percentage increase (1.3 per cent) than those on higher rates of pay.”
Homerton College had one of the highest numbers of staff paid below the ‘living wage’, according to the FOI request, with 65 on less than £7.20 an hour.
But college bursar Gale Bryan said these related to casual staff – all permanent employees were paid more than £7.20 an hour.
He said: “The unintended or intended objective (of this campaign) appears to be to increase the cost of casual labour, which meets the needs of many young people wishing to supplement their income.
“At the moment the imperative is surely to increase employment, not price out the employment of casual staff?”