The Unite trade union has announced that it will ballot RSPCA staff for strike action and accused the charity’s management of “bully boy” tactics after negotiations about new staff contracts broke down.
In response, the RSPCA said that it did not recognise the “depiction” of the charity in the union’s public statements, and that it was “acting out necessity, not choice”.
Last autumn the RSPCA decided to change staff contracts and introduce a new pay system that would replace an incremental pay scheme with performance-related pay increases.
Staff who do not sign the new contracts face being sacked.
Unite objects to the new contracts, which it says will weaken its own ability to negotiate on behalf of members and risk worsening morale at the charity.
But RSPCA says the changes are necessary because it faces a challenging financial situation.
The union says that there has been no meaningful negations since the autumn and will open a ballot on strike action on 4 February.
‘Trust is at rock bottom’
In a statement yesterday, Unite said morale at the charity was low and that trust in the executive team is “at rock bottom”.
The trade union has accused RSPCA of pressuring staff to sign contracts before the 31 March deadline.
Debbie Watson, regional coordinating officer at Unite, said: “Feedback from those that have signed indicates that the majority have not done this willingly and that many have done this as they simply did not want to lose their jobs.
“Our reps advise me that in some of the one to ones, some of our members have been in tears and extremely intimidated by the messages sent by the management team.”
She added: “Many members blame the employment of temporary external contractors at a senior level for the proposals and also the CEO for a failure in leadership, with many questioning his judgement.”
Unite revealed that it represents about 700 RSPCA staff. The charity’s entry on the Charity Commission’s register says it has 1,795 employees.
‘We’re trying to build a stronger, more resilient organisation’
But the RSPCA insisted that the changes were necessary to strengthen the charity’s financial position.
RSPCA’s latest available accounts, for the year to December 2018, show that the charity had an income of £142m but expenditure of nearly £160m.
In a statement it said it had been holding individual meetings with concerned employees, who it described as “our most precious resource”, and that the meetings had been carried out in a “sensitive, caring and professional manner”.
RSPCA said that nearly two thirds of its staff had already signed new contracts.
“We are naturally disappointed that the union has decided to ballot its members,” it said. “We don’t think this helps our employees or our organisation. However, we know that our passionate, dedicated staff will never do anything that will harm animal welfare.
“We hope that employees who are members of the union will not vote for action as the changes we are making will lead to a stronger, more resilient organisation better placed to face the challenges of the future. The RSPCA is acting out of necessity, not choice, so we can continue to meet the needs of the public and animals.”