Speakers drop out of RSA events as staff pay dispute continues

12 Feb 2024 News

Wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham

Garry Knight / Wikimedia Commons

Speakers including wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham have pulled out of engagements at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) in support of the charity’s staff, who are engaged in an ongoing pay dispute.

RSA workers went on strike for the first time since the charity was founded 270 years ago in September last year, before taking further industrial action in October and November after failing to negotiate pay terms.

Today, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has announced that Packham, former Greece finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, podcast host Deborah Frances-White and professor Brené Brown have all cancelled talks at the RSA in solidarity with workers.

Packham had recently been announced as a headliner of the RSA’s flagship Fellow’s Festival, set to begin later this month.

Varoufakis, who was set to be interviewed by Frances-White on Thursday, wrote on social media: “It’s our hope that this boycott will help the RSA Union to ensure that the RSA, with its historically progressive aims, offers fair pay and conditions for all staff.”

IWGB members are also asking members of the public, fellows of the RSA, politicians and universities to not attend RSA events or participate in research with the RSA until their ongoing industrial dispute is resolved.

Former leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn – along with fellow MPs John McDonnell, Ian Byrne, and deputy leader of the Green Party Zack Polanski – have supported the boycott.

Union branches including the University and College Union’s London region, the Public and Commercial Services Union’s culture group, and the British Actor’s Equity Association’s national council are also supporting the boycott.

IWGB said its members employed by RSA were deciding on further strike action.

Amanda Ibbett, senior production manager at RSA, said: “10 years ago, I joined an organisation that felt like home. Now, the RSA has become a den of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

“I’ve seen so many amazing colleagues crushed and broken with it. Now there are an abundance of self-serving policies that gag the staff and undermine our long history of serving society, and a complete democratic deficit.

“The RSA’s leadership lives none of its values – with ‘openness, optimism, rigour, enabling its staff and societal change, and rewarding courage’ all now empty words.”

RSA: ‘Staff are the bedrock of the RSA’

A spokesperson for the RSA said the charity was “disappointed that a couple of speakers have pulled out” of the events.

“We welcome hundreds of speakers every year to join conversations that shape our world through our impactful events series, and look forward to our packed programme of public talks, panels and other events in the coming weeks and months,” they said.

“We have worked with the IWGB for many months to find a constructive resolution for staff in the bargaining unit, making increased pay offers and offering conciliation through ACAS, both of which have disappointingly been rejected.

“Our staff are the bedrock of the RSA and we hope to reach a resolution as soon as possible, consistent with our financial sustainability, to ensure staff wellbeing is supported and we can continue to realise the huge impact of our Design for Life mission.”

In a statement published at the start of the month, the RSA said: “Our aim is to do the very best we can to support our staff team and their well-being, while at the same time ensuring the financial sustainability of the RSA both of which are essential to our success. We must comply too with our legal obligations as a charity.”

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