RSPCA and union unable to agree date for talks to avert possible industrial action

The animal charity has been at loggerheads with Unite the Union over plans to introduce a new performance-related pay scheme

Talks between the RSPCA and the trade union Unite about new staff contracts might have been thwarted because the two sides cannot agree on a date.

Third Sector revealed in October that the charity was planning to dismiss staff who do not agree to a new performance-related pay scheme for salary increments, prompting a furious backlash from Unite, the charity’s recognised trade union. 

Unite has invited the animal welfare charity to take part in talks, overseen by the mediation service Acas, on 8 January.

The RSPCA said it had "immediately and positively responded to this request" but that it would agree to meet only before 20 December, the deadline it had given staff to sign new contracts, which will come into force on 31 March.

The charity said the union had initially agreed to meet during the week of 16 December, but had then said it was unable to attend and instead offered to meet on 8 January.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "Unfortunately, as previously explained, there is a deadline for changes and we have already significantly elongated the consultation process, which started at the beginning of October, and the society felt that waiting three weeks to meet would cause further delays."

She said the charity had been "willing to drop everything" to meet the union at Acas in December, but because the union said it was not able to attend, the charity had "regretfully informed the union that the society does not intend to meet at Acas in January".

A Unite spokesman said: "We have asked for a meeting with the RSPCA management to discuss the issues regarding the new contracts and bullying culture under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas on Wednesday 8 January."

In December, an indicative ballot found that 88 per cent of the union’s 800 members at the charity were prepared to take industrial action and the union said planned to hold another ballot on any such measures. 

In a statement, the RSPCA spokeswoman said the charity had "approached the negotiations constructively and positively throughout and have made significant compromises in response to feedback from staff and the union".

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 failing to provide enough details about its plans.

Unite has been urging members not to sign the new contracts and said that a number of RSPCA employees who had done so wished to revoke their signatures. 

The RSPCA spokeswoman would not say what contingency plans the charity had in place to continue its services if a large number of front-line staff refused to sign the new contracts and were dismissed.

Instead, the spokeswoman said an "encouraging number of staff" had signed the new contracts in December.

"There are still some individual, personal queries being resolved with our people and culture team, which is to be expected," she said.

"Animal welfare is of course at the forefront of our minds and we hope all of our dedicated and hard-working staff will sign their contracts to continue the great work of the RSPCA.

"The society's focus will continue to be supporting individual employees through this process and encouraging them to sign their individual contracts. We look forward to continuing to receive more signed contracts over the coming days."

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