RSA staff balloted on first ever strike at 270-year old charity

04 Sep 2023 News

Close-up protester with megaphone for demonstration


Charity staff at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) are being balloted for potential strike action after five rounds of unsuccessful negotiations over pay.

According to the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB), this is following on from a vote last year in which 86% of staff voted to recognise IWGB at the charity.

If staff vote to strike, this would be the first time in the 270-year history of the charity.

Staff relation with management ‘deteriorated’

IWGB members at the RSA said in a statement: “Far from taking this as a moment to reset their relationship with IWGB, RSA management chose to enter into negotiations in bad faith, refusing to move from their initial pay offer that was unanimously rejected by union members.

“Our relationship with management has further deteriorated over this process, with members of the leadership team choosing to use intimidatory tactics to divide and demoralise the workforce - a majority of whom are union members.

“Staff at the organisation have made the democratic decision to ballot to strike due to this impasse, and, as we have communicated with the RSA, are open to constructive negotiation when management are willing to move from their initial position and discuss a serious pay offer.”

The RSA told the Guardian it had implemented an across-the-board pay rise in April, equating to 4% for some staff, in recognition of cost-of-living pressures. It added it also now had a minimum salary “well in excess” of the London Living Wage.

RSA staff voted for union recognition last year, with more than 250 RSA fellows signing an open letter in support of the union.

Charity Commission data for the financial year ending 31 March 2022, puts the charity’s total income at more than £10m and total expenditure at over £11m.

RSA: Disappointed IWGB has chosen to encourage industrial action

The RSA said pay discussions between the charity and IWGB have been ongoing since the union was formally recognised in March 2023.

A statement from the charity reads: “We are committed to a review of staff pay in September following reforecasting our income and expenditure. This commitment has been communicated on several occasions to all staff and to IWGB.

“The RSA is a charity with an exceptional and highly valued staff team. We are seeing terrific collective efforts from everyone to deliver our new charitable mission and increase our income so we can do more on pay. Our growing social impact and external reputation means we are attracting some fantastic new recruits and partners and the RSA’s strategic direction, social impact and staffing position have never been stronger.

“We are hugely grateful to all our staff for their ongoing hard work and commitment at this exciting time, especially with the current cost of living backdrop and the requirement for our charity to deliver financial sustainability through a balanced operating budget. This is after spending over £2m of reserves during the pandemic to preserve jobs and support pay. We invested heavily in order that no staff lost their jobs during the pandemic and so that all those furloughed had their pay topped up to 100%. We continue to invest in our people alongside addressing the deficits the charity has run for the past five years.

“Since 1 April 2023, in recognition of cost-of-living pressures, we have implemented a new minimum salary for all staff of £25,500, which is well in excess of the London Living Wage.

"We have also implemented an across-the-board pay increase for all staff, equating to up to 4% for many of our people, and have awarded around half of our more junior team with pay increases well above this minimum pay increase. This was all done within the constraints of financial sustainability and a balanced budget.

“We are extremely disappointed that the IWGB union has chosen this moment to encourage industrial action rather than engaging collaboratively, as requested, in talks with ACAS or returning to collective bargaining conversations in September to which we have already committed.

“We are also disappointed that there is continued publication of inaccurate and misleading information about our charity in the public domain. The unsubstantiated and personalised attacks on RSA senior management, baseless claims and deceptive information are not in the interests of harmonious industrial relations or the wellbeing of our staff team.

“IWGB’s decision to push for industrial action at this moment, alongside supporting the sharing of inaccurate and misleading information in the media, seems to be motivated by disrupting our charitable work at a time of huge excitement and opportunity and using our good name to gain publicity for themselves rather than protecting the welfare of our people or the interests of our charity. This is deeply regrettable.”

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