Oxfam ‘to use unpaid volunteers to undermine strike action’, union claims

The union Unite has accused Oxfam of “looking at undermining” strike action its members are taking throughout December, claiming the charity will be “using unpaid volunteers” to cover for striking staff.

Almost 500 Oxfam workers are to strike during December for the first time in the charity’s history.

But the union understands the charity is looking at deploying volunteers to cover roles impacted by the action in what would be “an astonishing move for a charity that says it support labour rights”, says Unite.

“Oxfam wants to end poverty and says it is on the side of unions,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham.

But "it is considering using unpaid labour to break a strike" she said, adding "this is rank hypocrisy from an organisation that should know better".

The strike action will impact the charity’s offices and more than 200 shops and take place over 17 days.

Oxfam has admitted that volunteers could be set to keep shops open where managers are absent during the strike action.

“It is normal practice for volunteers to keep shops open in the absence of managers, where this is practical,” said a spokesperson.

“This allows us to keep our doors open for local communities and to continue raising funds for our work tackling poverty with communities around the world.”

The spokesperson added: “Where volunteers are comfortable to do so, we will follow our usual procedure during strike action. Our priority is the wellbeing of all those who work and volunteer with us and we will not ask volunteers to take on any work they are not comfortable with."

Strike action starts on December 8 and ends on December 31, the union Unite has confirmed.

On the first day of strike action a picket will take place outside Oxfam’s Oxford headquarters, while on the second day a picket will be held outside its first shop, which opened in Oxford in 1948.

Unite claims average wages at the charity have been cut by a fifth in real terms over the last five years.

It says that its reserves stood at £44.6m in 2022. “This is the highest they have been in at least five years and at the very top of the acceptable range the charity has for reserves, which is between £35 and £45 million,” said the union.

More than eight in ten of the union’s members at the charity voted in favour of strike action and to reject the charity’s pay offer in a ballot with an 82% turnout.

The charity had offered £1,750 or 6%, whichever is higher, plus a one-off taxed payment of £1,000 for the lowest earners at Oxfam.

“Our members are striking as a last resort and Unite’s door remains open for talks at any time to resolve this dispute,” said Unite regional coordinating officer Jamie Major.

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