Cathedrals berated for failing to pay the Living Wage

27 February 2015

canterbury cathedral

Balancing act: a Canterbury Cathedral spokesman said that the cost of repairs was slowing down the introduction of the Living Wage

Balancing act: a Canterbury Cathedral spokesman said that the cost of repairs was slowing down the introduction of the Living Wage

THE Church of England's record on the Living Wage has been defended, after journalists found cathedrals that were hiring staff on salaries below the benchmark.

An investigation by The Sun found that Canterbury Cathedral was advertising for porters and kiosk assistants on salaries between £6.70 and £7.75 an hour. The Living Wage (outside London) is currently set at £7.85.

Lichfield Cathedral was also said to be hiring waiting staff on £6.50 an hour, the national minimum wage, not the Living Wage.

In a statement on Monday, a C of E spokesman said that every parish, diocese, and cathedral was a separate legal entity, and had to formulate its own hiring policies. "As charities, churches require time to increase giving levels prior to ensuring delivery of the Living Wage."

Several Conservative MPs have accused the Church of hypocrisy because the House of Bishops pastoral letter about the General Election, issued last week, endorses the Living Wage (News, 20 February). The church spokesman said on Monday that last year's Living Wage Commission, chaired by the Archbishop of York, recommended phased implementation of the Wage.

"The vast majority of those employed by, or sub-contracted to, the Church's central institutions are already paid at least the Living Wage, and all will be by April 2017," the statement also said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was questioned about the story by reporters during a visit to Birmingham on Monday. He said that the revelations had kept him up the previous night. It would be "great" if every part of the C of E was paying the Living Wage, but this would take some time.

"We all recognise that no employer can simply increase its salaries overnight. . . We're getting there as quickly as we can."

Speaking on the Church of England's weekly podcast on Thursday, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said the Church should actually be grateful to The Sun for highlighting the issue.

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"That has allowed us to get it on to the news agenda, which means more people are convinced it is a good thing. In a sense we owe a debt of gratitude to The Sun. We can say 'Yes, we are moving towards the Living Wage, the vast majority of Church bodies are already paying the Living Wage'."

Canterbury Cathedral responded to criticism that it was "fully committed" to introducing the Living Wage for all staff, but said that "current economic conditions" were stopping it from doing so.

"We have, for example, to balance any wage increases against the huge cost of repairs to the building and the large amount of repair work that is required. However, all staff at Canterbury Cathedral will receive the Living Wage by 2018."

A Church Times investigation last year found that almost every diocese in the C of E was already paying its directly employed staff at least the Living Wage (News, 27 June). Of the 34 diocese that replied to questions, all 34 confirmed that its directly employed staff were being paid at least £7.85 per hour.

A number, including York and Manchester, were considering extending the Wage to all sub-contracted staff as well. The diocese of Chelmsford has made paying the Living Wage a condition of receiving a grant.

Ely Cathedral employs about 100 people, including several in low-pay positions in cafés and shops. Last year, its Canon Missioner, the Revd Dr Alan Hargrave, said that the Living Wage would be phased in over five years at the cost of £50,000, even though the cathedral was only just breaking even.

A deal brokered between the trade union Unison and the National Society in September will lead every church school to become an accredited Living Wage employer (News, 19 September).

Other denominations have endorsed the concept of the Living Wage. Since 2010, all Methodist churches and organisations have been required to pay the Living Wage, unless they have applied for an exemption on the grounds it would be economically unviable. The Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference for England and Wales is an accredited Living Wage employer, and all RC schools are encouraged to pay it.

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Question of the week: Is the Church being too slow to introduce the Living Wage? 

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