Speakers pull out of Royal Society of Arts events as public boycott announced

The comedian and author Deborah Frances-White and the wildlife campaigner Chris Packham have withdrawn from upcoming events until an ongoing industrial dispute is resolved

Deborah Frances-White (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Speakers including the comedian and author Deborah Frances White, the wildlife campaigner Chris Packham and the Greek economist and politician Yanis Varoufakis have withdrawn from upcoming events hosted by the RSA amid an ongoing pay dispute. 

Staff at the Royal Society of Arts today announced a public boycott of the organisation, asking the public, fellows of the society, politicians and universities to not attend RSA events or participate in research with the RSA until the industrial dispute has been resolved. 

Varoufakis was due to be interviewed by Frances-White on Thursday but said today they had cancelled the event in support of the boycott. He added: “It's our hope that this boycott will help to ensure that the RSA, with its historically progressive aims, offers fair pay and conditions for all staff.” 

The former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the deputy leader of the Green Party, Zack Polanski, have also pledged support for the boycott. 

Members of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain working at the RSA balloted to strike in September last year due to a disagreement over pay increases amid the cost-of-living crisis. 

Amanda Ibbett, an IWGB member of staff at the RSA, said the charity had “become a den of wolves in sheep’s clothing” that had left colleagues “crushed and broken”.

Ibbett said: “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.”

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Royal Society of Arts said it was “disappointed” that some speakers had withdrawn from its public events programme. 

“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,” the spokesperson 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. 

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