The trade union Unite has told its 700 members at the RSPCA that there is no choice but to take industrial action over planned staff contract changes after a further breakdown in relations with the charity.
In a newsletter sent to members last week, the union accused the RSPCA of “unreasonably and intentionally avoiding mediation” at a meeting on Thursday about the increasingly bitter dispute over the charity’s decision to introduce a controversial new performance-related pay scheme for all of its 1,700 staff members.
The charity, however, said it had tried to meet with the union before Christmas, but the union was unable to attend and it was now too late for discussions.
The charity has threatened to dismiss any staff member who does not sign their new contract by the end of March, when the contracts come into force, but had previously given a deadline of 20 December.
The union had already opened a ballot on 4 February over strike action, which is due to remain open until 20 February. A consultative ballot held before Christmas indicated that 88 per cent of staff would support industrial action over the issue.
In a statement issued to the RSPCA at the meeting, the union said its members did not believe the charity had entered into the pay framework negotiations openly.
“The society has unreasonably and intentionally avoided mediation via Acas, despite the multiple requests for the two sides to meet there to find a common way forward and to avoid further distress to staff,” the statement said.
The statement called on the RSPCA to use the meeting for formal negotiations, immediately agree to meet with Acas or agree to to dispute-resolution meetings over the next month to avoid industrial action.
If the RSPCA rejected the offer, the union said, it would reinforce that “it is solely the society causing the disunity we find ourselves in, and the charity would be responsible for any adverse publicity.
The newsletter said the charity had rejected the proposals for negotiation and ended the meeting “after a brief discussion”.
The newsletter said: “The executive still refuses to listen to us. That leaves only one option – industrial action.”
In a statement, an RSPCA spokeswoman said: “As the union is aware, we arranged to meet with it at Acas before Christmas but it were unable to attend.
“We explained that we were unable to delay any further due to the urgent need to conclude these changes by 1 April 2020 in order to safeguard the future and sustainability of the charity.”
She said she was pleased that more than 70 per cent of staff had already signed their contracts and more were expected to do so in the coming weeks.
“The society will not be re-entering into negotiations regarding the contractual changes, but we do want to continue to engage with the union on day-to-day matters,” she said.
“We really hope that our employees do not vote for strike action and that we can continue to work together with them to create a modern, forward-thinking charity that is in the best shape to deliver its vital services helping animals.”
She said the charity remained committed to its relationship with Unite.