Oxfam workers to vote on strike action for first time in charity’s history

25 Oct 2023 News


Staff at Oxfam will vote on strike action for the first time in the charity’s 81-year history after rejecting a pay offer from the charity. 

Unite the union said that average wages at Oxfam have fallen by 21% in real terms since 2018. 

Oxfam offered employees a minimum salary increase of 6%, or £1,750 depending on which was higher, for all UK-based colleagues who began work there before December 2022. 

An additional one-off payment of £1,000 was offered to all staff below the highest two pay grades (pro rata for part-time employees). The anti-poverty charity has more than 1,800 UK-based staff. 

According to Unite, a recent survey of almost 150 Oxfam workers said that in the last year, 8% had used food banks while 22% had not been able to pay their rent.

Oxfam staff costs down by 11%

The charity’s accounts for the financial year ending March 2022 show a total income of £373m against an expenditure of £329m. 

Staff costs amounted to a third of the charity’s expenditure at £102.5m. This is down by 11% from the previous year. 

Oxfam is a real living wage employer, a voluntary pay scale that is higher than the national living wage set by the government. 

The charity said that under its current pay offer, a further one-off payment would be made to current employees on the real living wage rates in October 2022, which would be equivalent to backdating the wage increase to September 2022. 

Oxfam said it will keep paying real living wage rates despite them being raised by 10% yesterday.

It has also committed to backdating the pay increase to the day the new rates were announced for eligible colleagues. 

Unite: ‘Oxfam’s hypocrisy is astounding’

Unite said that Oxfam’s union members rejected the charity’s pay offer by 79% in a ballot. 

The union will ballot its members for strike action from 26 October to 16 November 2023.

Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Oxfam’s hypocrisy is astounding. This is a charity in robust financial health that makes much of belonging to the Ethical Trading Initiative and bestowing the virtues of unions to lift workers out of poverty.

“Meanwhile, Oxfam’s own staff are on poverty pay, with some using foodbanks and unable to pay their rent. How can its leadership possibly justify ignoring its workers’ demands to be paid fairly and blocking their union?”

Unite regional coordinating officer Jamie Major said: “The last thing Oxfam needs is further damage to its reputation. But its leadership seems intent on doing just that by disregarding how much their low-paid staff are struggling financially.”
He added: “Oxfam’s staff do not want to strike, but they will if these issues are not resolved. The charity can absolutely afford to put forward an acceptable rise. It needs to meet with Unite and do just that.”

Oxfam: ‘Simply not affordable’

An Oxfam GB spokesperson said: “As a real living wage employer and an organisation committed to tackling poverty, Oxfam is acutely aware of the impact of the rising cost of living on colleagues and addressing that is a priority for us. 

“That is why we chose to bring forward pay increases for lower-paid colleagues and why we have ensured that these colleagues will have received real-terms pay increases over the past 12 months. 

“We believe this pay award is fair and it is at the limit of what Oxfam can afford without taking vital resources away from our work fighting poverty with communities around the world. 

“Colleagues understand that we face limited resources and tough choices and we hope they will recognise that when casting their ballot.

“We value the work of our trade unions and would much rather have reached agreement with Unite, but what they are asking for is simply not affordable at a time when many of the communities we work with are also facing sharply rising costs.”

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