Retail employees at the veterinary charity PDSA have been asked to sign new contracts that allow them to be sacked or have their hours cut at short notice as part of a multimillion-pound restructure.
Correspondence between the charity and staff, seen by Third Sector, shows PDSA was predicting a £30m fall in income in March last year, although this has since been revised to about £8m.
The charity made 50 redundancies last year while it was asking staff to agree to a change in the terms and conditions of their contracts, Third Sector understands.
Correspondence sent last year from the charity to retail employees said: “In the event of a temporary loss or reduction of work, PDSA reserves the right to lay you off without pay or alternatively reduce your working hours with a proportionate reduction in pay, for a period determined by PDSA.
“As much notice as reasonably practicable will be given before any period of lay-off or short time working.”
In a separate letter, an employee who did not agree with the new terms was given four weeks’ notice, although the new contract offer remained in place until the end of the notice period.
The charity said the contract changes for retail colleagues, which would apply in the event of temporary loss or reduction of work and where no government support schemes were available, had been introduced and agreed with the vast majority of staff.
PDSA said the move would help safeguard individual jobs and the future of its retail operation, which raised vital income.
The charity did not respond to a question about the number of staff who signed the new contract, but its 2019 accounts show it had 239 full-time employees in its retail operation.
It also would not say how many staff had refused to sign the contract, or whether the clause had been used since it was introduced.
A spokesperson for the charity said: “Like the vast majority of charities, the pandemic has hit PDSA hard.
“Virtually all of the charity’s income and fundraising activities have been impacted, while at the same time demand for our veterinary services has increased.
“We took decisive action to adapt our plans as a result of the pandemic and made sure we had the right structures and affordable cost base to deliver those plans so that we could be here for pets and people in need for many more years to come.
“Changes to structures were implemented in the autumn following a robust consultation process where we worked proactively to minimise the impact on individuals and we were able to provide alternative employment in many cases.”
The charity said the decision to restructure some parts of the organisation was not taken lightly and it deeply regretted the impact on affected colleagues.