RSPCA accused of pushing away staff amid ‘bullying and retention crises’

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has been accused of pushing away staff through a new pay system, which has been warned could damage existing ‘low morale’.

Unite the union, which represents hundreds of employees at the animal charity, has warned the charity’s proposals to replace an incremental pay scheme with a performance pay arrangement could ‘exacerbate plummeting staff morale in an organisation where bullying has been endemic and not dealt with effectively’.

The union said changes include reducing overtime and shift allowances as well as London weighting after 15 November. It claims direct consequence of the proposals would be a two-year pay freeze and represents an attempt to provide animal welfare ‘on the cheap’.

But the RSPCA has rebuffed the claims, arguing it is ‘not true’ that there is a two-year pay freeze, that staff basic salaries will remain the same and only annual increases will ‘potentially be subject to performance-related pay’.

“The current framework was due to be reviewed next year but this has been prioritised as the RSPCA, like many charities and organisations, is facing a challenging financial environment,” the charity said in a statement.

“Staff have been reassured that their base pay will not be impacted by the review. We are proposing that future pay increases should be based on affordability for the Society, linked to appropriate market pay and to recognise the contribution of employees. It is unlikely that any performance related pay will be in place for all employees before April 2022.”

The charity added it is “not a redundancy situation” and it is “hopeful all employees will choose to sign the new contracts if an agreement cannot be reached with Unite”.

“The RSPCA entered formal negotiations with Unite in early October and the talks have been constructive and open. We remain committed to working with Unite in the future and throughout this process will continue to keep all employees informed of progress,” it said.

Low staff morale

The RSPCA’s staff engagement survey this summer revealed 31 per cent of employees said they had been bullied directly or witnessed this kind of behaviour.

A separate survey from Unite also revealed 80 per cent of its members feel a performance-related pay is ‘inappropriate’ given the current negative workplace culture; 76 per cent feel it isn’t suitable for their role and a further 93 per cent do not feel the current pay proposals are open or transparent.

“What we have here is a management that wants to take a sledgehammer to a carefully crafted incremental pay scheme and introduce a performance related pay scheme, but how you evaluate ‘performance’ when it comes to rescuing abused animals remains to be seen,” Unite regional officer Jesika Parmer said.

“The RSPCA already faces a ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis and morale is low – and this will get worse if pay and terms and conditions are eroded.”

But an RSPCA spokesperson said the charity ‘rejects’ that it has a recruitment and retention crisis and staff morale is plummeting.

“There is no place for bullying of any nature within the RSPCA and there are policies and procedures in place to help safeguard staff and protect their wellbeing,” the charity said in a statement.

“Our board has recently approved a new people and culture strategy which has employee wellbeing at its very heart. This strategy was informed by our most recent employee survey and we are working on training all our managers to the highest possible standard. We have also launched a wellbeing action group with Unite to review all relevant policies and explore fresh ways to ensure that anyone can raise a concern and access support.”

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