LOW paid university workers appealed to their employer to have a heart and pay the living wage in a Valentine’s Day protest today (Thursday, February 14).

As part of a regionwide day of action, Unison members staged a lunchtime demonstration in an effort to convince Durham University to pay at least £7.45 per hour.

They gave out Love Heart sweets, gathered signatures for a petition and left the University a large chocolate bearing their message.

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John McDade, a Unison regional organiser, said: “We’re taking a light-hearted approach to a very serious issue.

“We’re trying to convince the University it has a moral obligation to look after its low paid workers.”

It is thought several hundred of the University’s 4,000 staff currently earn less than the living wage, which has already been adopted by several other universities across the country. These include cleaners, porters, security guards and clerical staff.

Unison highlighted the recent £21,000-a-year pay rise given to Durham Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Higgins, which took his salary to about £232,000.

Mr McDade said: “It cannot be right that one man can earn almost a quarter of a million pounds a year yet people working for the same employer are paid poverty wages.

“His increase is more than some of the University’s lower paid workers earn in a year.”

A Durham University spokesman said it strives to maintain a good reward package for all its staff and Unison had not raised the living wage as a major concern in any local union consultative meeting.

The University contributes 12 per cent of salary to a final salary pension scheme, he said, while adding that adopting the living wage “is simply not sustainable in the medium term as a pay policy which helps to maintain job security for our staff”.

On the Vice-Chancellor’s salary, the spokesman said it is determined by a remuneration committee of the governing University Council to enable the University to attract the best staff from around the world while ensuring value for money.

Elsewhere, Unison members protested in Middlesbrough and Gateshead town centres and South Tyneside District Hospital with the message: “Have a heart for public services”.