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June 4, 2019 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Is Vic Books Missing Out on the Living Wage Campaign?

With the Living Wage campaign growing at Victoria, attention has been brought to “underpaid and underappreciated” workers on campus. A lot of focus has been put on security, cleaning, and tutoring staff. However, it’s less clear how a VUW staple, Vic Books, is being approached.


Although a key source of books and coffee on campus, Vic Books has been known for underpaying and poorly managing its staff.


While Vic Books employees are not allowed to discuss their contracts with each other, an anonymous source inside Vic Books told Salient that “I don’t feel represented in the fight because VUWSA (to my knowledge) hasn’t advocated for [Vic Books] staff to get paid a living wage.”


“I’m not sure the profits of [Vic Books] do go back to VUWSA,” they continued. “It would be strange if VUWSA was advocating a living wage, but not for the people who […] work for them.”


The VUWSA Trust is responsible for managing and building finances used to support activities and businesses around the university.


The source believes that the pay scheme at the store is an issue “because it is unclear and doesn’t seem to have any structure or system for justifying why people get paid what,” adding that there is “little transparency” from management.


Similar transparency issues were raised by a tutor who anonymously submitted a statement for the recent Living Wage Day event.


While Trust members are appointed by VUWSA, the Trust itself is responsible for assigning subsequent directors, who then manage Vic Books and its employees (including their wages). The VUWSA president and treasurer serve ex officio on the Trust.


Responding to questions raised by Salient, Chairman of the VUWSA Trust Nick Green said  “our objective is to grow Vic Books to return more dividends.”


Vic Books manager Juliet Blyth also commented to Salient, “in the long term, Vic Books would love to raise our employee’s wages to match the living wage.”


“However, we operate in a very tight retail environment with short margins, as well as the normal running costs of a business, and a responsibility to our owners to operate the business sustainably.”


While unspecified how long “long term” would be, Blyth indicated there was a wage review system.


“Our wage rates are under regular review,” continued Blyth, “and we make increases as appropriate based on performance and level of responsibility and within parameters the business can sustain.”


In a statement to Salient, Living Wage Club President Richard Beere outlined how the club aimed to hold VUW accountable, despite the university using “third-party employers” as a scapegoat, allegedly using past contractors to explain away a lack of transparency.


“A huge part of being a living wage employer is employing workers, even contractors that are paid the living wage. The Living Wage Club at Vic is about campaigning for the university to be fair to all of their workers, including contractors.”


He continued to say that, “in terms of scapegoating their responsibility, we would say that it is the Senior Leadership Team’s responsibility to look into the contractors they hire and take a stand on how they treat their employees.”


The Senior Leadership Team is liable for the contractors that they hire, “and they should do so with respect to the appropriate compassionate values,” remarked Beere.


While VUWSA is not an accredited Living Wage employer, it is part of the Living Wage movement. However, it’s currently unclear to Salient if, and how, the student association could directly affect wage changes at Vic Books through their Trust.


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