The care of thousands of neglected and abused animals could be seriously affected by a staff ‘recruitment and retention’ crisis at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, warned today (Tuesday 29 October).

Unite, which has hundreds of members at the animal charity, said management’s proposals to jettison the recently negotiated 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.

Unite regional officer Jesika Parmer said: “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.

“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. Unfortunately, it will be these services that our members provide for thousands of animals that ultimately will be impacted.”

Following the latest negotiations on Thursday (24 October), it became apparent to Unite that the RSPCA is not only seeking to impose contractual changes with the result of dismissal if individuals do not agree, but it is also intending to remove the union’s ability to negotiate on a range of contractual policies – this represents derecognition by the backdoor.

The management wants to impose these changes, including reducing overtime and shift allowances as well as London weighting, after 15 November. A direct consequence of the proposals would be a two-year pay freeze and represents an attempt to provide animal welfare ‘on the cheap’.

Unite said the bosses wanted to tear up the current pay system and introduce performance related pay, although the union questions how performance pay can be applied to those who are cleaning out kennels, grooming horses, performing lifesaving operations or investigating cruelty.

Unite believes that trying to impose such a scheme would be a backwards step leading to unnecessary bureaucracy and time being wasted trying to make the process work.

The union said that the management at the Horsham HQ was using the relatively modest operational deficit projected for 2019/2020 as an excuse to introduce these salami-slicing measures on employment conditions; especially given that income from donations is running at £140 million a year and is reinforced by healthy reserves.

Unite said the RSPCA’s own staff engagement survey this summer revealed that 31 per cent of the 1,700-strong workforce had either been bullied directly or witnessed such behaviour.

Unite has recently canvassed opinion from its members which showed:

  • 80 per cent feel that performance related pay is inappropriate, given the current negative workplace culture
  • 76 per cent  feel that performance related pay is not suitable for their role
  • 93 per cent do not feel that the current pay proposals are open or transparent.

Jesika Parmar added: “Lurking in the background is a culture of bullying, which a Unite survey revealed as rife, and further underlined by the management’s own staff survey which showed nearly a third of employees had witnessed or directly experienced bullying in the workplace.

“The management’s hardline attitude can be summed up by the imposition of a below inflation one per cent cost of living increase this month without the agreement of the union.

“However, there is still an opportunity for the management to have a reboot in the way it treats its workforce and we urge them to take this course before we have to consider a ballot for industrial action.” 


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065. Email:

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.