RSPCA staff to be balloted on strike action

Unite, which represents more than 700 of the charity's 1,700 staff, says it plans to open the ballot on 4 February in response to a bitter dispute over new contracts

Staff at the RSPCA will vote on whether to go on strike over the planned introduction of new contracts, the union Unite has announced.

The union, which represents more than 700 of the animal charity’s 1,700 staff, said it planned to open the ballot on 4 February, giving members until 20 February to have their say on whether or not to they should go on strike.

A consultative ballot held before Christmas indicated that 88 per cent of staff would support industrial action in the increasingly bitter dispute over the charity’s decision to introduce a controversial new performance-related pay scheme.

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.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, the union accused the charity of bullying and aggressive behaviour over the dispute.

The RSPCA said it rejected this characterisation of its behaviour and said nearly two-thirds of staff had signed the new contracts.

Negotiations between the two organisations broke down in November.

In the month before that, Unite accused the RSPCA of "deliberately setting up negotiations to fail" by not providing enough details about its plans.

In a letter to the RSPCA’s HR director confirming the planned strike ballot, Unite regional coordinating officer Debbie Watson said that there had been no meaningful talks about the decision to dismiss employees who would not sign their new contracts.

She said the majority of those who had signed had done so unwillingly for fear of losing their jobs and some had “been in tears and extremely intimidated by the messages sent by the management team”.

She said: “Members don’t have to sign these contracts until 31 March this year and they should not be bullied into signing them.

“Accompanying the contracts was an aggressive email threatening staff to sign before 20 December last year or face potential dismissal.”

She said morale had never been so low, and confidence and trust in chief executive Chris Sherwood and the executive team was “at rock bottom”. 

In a statement, an RSPCA spokeswoman said: “We utterly reject the depiction of the society’s approach by the union.

“We have been holding individual meetings with staff who wish to discuss the contract and these have been conducted in a sensitive, caring and professional manner.

“Our employees are our most precious resource and we are lucky to have such a passionate and committed team who all share our desire to make the world a better place for animals and people.

“We are naturally disappointed that the union has decided to ballot its members. We don’t think this helps our employees or our organisation.

“We hope that employees who are members of the union will not vote for action because 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.”

She said the process had been about ensuring the sustainability of the RSPCA in a challenging financial environment and the charity had been “open and transparent” with employees throughout the process.

The charity was pleased that nearly two-thirds of staff had signed their new contracts, she said.

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