UNISON campaigners spent a frosty morning lobbying Church of England leaders over pay, before a meeting of the General Synod in Westminster, last week.
They urged clergy, who were about to debate the cost of living crisis, to raise the issue of catering staff, cleaners and caretakers being paid less than the real living wage in church schools.
UNISON and Church Action on Poverty are jointly campaigning for the Church of England to take urgent action.
In December, UNISON wrote to the heads of the Church of England and Catholic Church asking them to honour their promises to pay at least the real living wage to the lowest paid staff in more than 6,800 church schools in England and Wales.
The letters to the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Westminster warned that thousands of these employees face “devastating financial hardship” unless churches follow through on a pledge made more than a decade ago. UNISON analysis of the Living Wage Foundation’s website suggests fewer than 50 Catholic and Church of England school employers are accredited for paying the real living wage.
Additional UNISON research shows just over half (55%) of church secondary and primary schools say they are paying the real living wage to their directly employed staff. Only three in 10 (30%) were requiring their contractors to pay this rate.
In 2012, the churches committed that all their institutions would pay at least the living wage and worked with UNISON to produce step-by-step action plans.
Church school staff should now all be getting at least £10.90 an hour (or £11.95 in London) under the current real living wage rates; however thousands of school support staff working in church schools are not – with low wages leading to staff leaving the education sector for better wages elsewhere.
UNISON also wants all staff working for private contractors delivering services to schools to receive at least the real living wage, as well as full sick pay like their directly employed colleagues. This requires the churches to ensure that schools draw up timetables to become accredited living wage employers.
Mike Short, UNISON head of education, said: “The cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on low-paid workers. Staff need action with a proper wage boost, not just supportive words.
“Churches do important work supporting their local communities by providing practical assistance. But they must also make sure their staff receive fair pay. It’s the church’s moral responsibility to make sure employees don’t have to choose between feeding their families or heating their homes this winter.”