Unite says RSPCA's job cut plans pre-date the pandemic

The animal charity says its restructure is an economic necessity as a result of Covid-19 and that it has reduced the number of at-risk roles

Unite the union has accused the RSPCA of using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to push ahead with pre-existing plans to sack workers.

The animal welfare charity is looking to close four animal centres and cut jobs as it deals with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It had previously said that up to 300 jobs were likely to go but has now reduced the figure to 279.

But Unite bosses claim the charity has used the crisis as a “woeful” excuse to sack workers under a jobs cull strategy that predates the pandemic.

The RSPCA strongly refutes that is the case.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the charity and the union had been locked in a bitter dispute over the introduction of a performance-related pay scheme, which the union said also included a two-year pay freeze and overtime reductions. There were claims that the RSPCA planned to dismiss anyone who had not signed the new contract before 31 March.

In June, the charity announced plans to make up to 300 redundancies and launched a formal 45-day consultation period.

Shortly after the announcement, more than 1,000 people signed a petition calling on the charity to rethink closing a number of centres and a hospital.

The restructure includes the proposed closure of four animal centres: Lockwood Equine Centre and South Godstone Animal Centre (both in Surrey), Southall Cattery and Clinic, and Putney Animal Hospital with the loss of 84 jobs.

And more than 100 frontline officers within the charity's inspector division could also lose their jobs by the end of September. 

The consultation period ended yesterday, but Unite has called for it to be extended so that counter-proposals can be fully considered.

The union thinks the RSPCA should be using its £60m in reserves to cushion the charity through the pandemic and safeguard jobs.

Terry Abbot, Unite regional officer, said: “The potential loss of so many frontline staff and animal welfare services is a huge shock and the vast majority of our members believe that Covid-19 is being used as a woeful excuse to implement cost-cutting measures that predate the pandemic.”

In March, the Charity Commission issued guidance to organisations that sets out the options of utilising reserves, designated funds and permanent endowment assets to address financial difficulties during the current crisis.

Siobhan Endean, Unite national officer for the not-for-profit sector, explained that the union will call for a rescue package for animal welfare charities from the government.

The RSPCA said in a statement that the consultation period had helped save 30 roles previously at risk, two thirds of which are frontline staff, resulting in £1.2m being put back into the charity than originally planned. 

“Before Covid, the RSPCA had a deficit of £20m, which had been reduced to £12m, but the pandemic has caused further severe financial pressures. Without this restructure, we forecast a hole in our finances of up to £47m over the next three years,” it said.

The charity added that it is acting out of necessity rather than choice and strongly refuted it was using Covid-19 as an excuse for the measures, arguing it had been clear and transparent from the start of the process.

It’s statement also explained that the RSPCA’s executive team is continuing to consider a number of counter proposals, and that a final decision will be communicated on Monday, August 10.

“We know this is a very difficult and unsettling time for our staff who have continued to work hard through these challenging times, but these changes are urgent and essential if we are to protect our crucial services for the future.”

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