Oxfam workers poised to strike for first time over poverty pay ‘hypocrisy’

Workers at anti-poverty charity using foodbanks due to low pay

26 Oct 2023| News

Hundreds of struggling Oxfam workers across the UK are balloting for strike action for the first time after rejecting a substandard pay offer. This is despite Oxfam having huge reserves and its public stance condemning UK poverty and real-terms wage cuts.

Oxfam GB office and retail workers, most earning little more than the minimum wage, rejected a pay offer of £1,750 or six per cent (whichever is higher), plus a one-off payment of £1,000. Average wages at Oxfam have fallen by 21 per cent in real terms since 2018.

The charity is now seeking to impose the offer and is refusing to engage in further negotiations with Unite, even though the union’s members rejected it by 79 per cent in a ballot. In response, Unite will ballot its members for strike action from 26 October to 16 November.

A recent survey of nearly 150 Oxfam workers found that in the last year: eight per cent had used foodbanks, 22 per cent had not been able to pay their rent and 34 per cent have had to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families.

In contrast, Oxfam’s total income for 2022 was £373 million, 86 per cent of the pre-pandemic level of £434 million. The charity’s cash surplus is now higher than before the pandemic. In 2022, Oxfam had a surplus of £44.6 million – the highest 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.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

Oxfam’s hypocrisy is astounding. This is a charity in robust financial health that makes much of belonging to the Ethical Trading Initiative and bestowing the virtues of unions to lift workers out of poverty.

Meanwhile, Oxfam’s own staff are on poverty pay, with some using foodbanks and unable to pay their rent. How can its leadership possibly justify ignoring its workers’ demands to be paid fairly and blocking their union?

Oxfam can well afford to pay a reasonable rise without the slightest impact on its operations here or abroad.”

The workers are angry that their request for a pay rise that reflects historic low pay, rocketing living costs and the charity’s healthy finances has been denied. This is despite staff voluntarily accepting pay freezes for two out of the last five years, resulting in a real terms pay cut of over 21 per cent per employee on average since 2018.

Unite regional coordinating officer Jamie Major said:

“The last thing Oxfam needs is further damage to its reputation. But its leadership seems intent on doing just that by disregarding how much their low paid staff are struggling financially and their attempts at union-busting by ending negotiations and imposing the pay deal.

Oxfam’s staff do not want to strike, but they will if these issues are not resolved. The charity can absolutely afford to put forward an acceptable rise. It needs to meet with Unite and do just that.”