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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Oxfam workers walk out as winter strike gets underway

This news post is 7 months old

500 staff will take action on 17 days this December.

Hundreds of workers at one of the UK’s best-known charities have gone on strike for the first time in the organisation’s history. 

Members of Unite the union at Oxfam will take action on 17 days throughout December, including the last few shopping days before Christmas.

Around 500 workers and 200 shops will be affected by the action.

The strike comes as wages for staff at Oxfam have seen cuts of 21% in real terms since 2018.

Low paid Oxfam staff, who work across the charity’s shops, offices and Oxford headquarters, are angry that average wages at Oxfam have been slashed despite the charity publicly condemning real-terms pay cuts by other employers. 

Oxfam’s last reported cash reserves stood at £44.6million 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 £45m.

Workers voted by 83 per cent in favour of strike action in a ballot with an 82 per cent turnout. The vote came after they rejected a pay offer of £1,750 or six per cent (whichever is higher), plus a one-off taxed payment of £1,000 for the lowest earners.

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

“Yet its own workers report having to use food banks, it refuses to engage with the only union representing its workforce and it is considering using unpaid labour to break a strike. 

“Oxfam is an extremely wealthy organisation and can afford to put forward an acceptable offer without impacting its charity work in the slightest.”

Unite warned that the charity has repeatedly refused to enter fresh negotiations, with the union also claiming that Oxfam is looking at undermining the strike by using unpaid volunteers, an “astonishing move” for a charity that says it supports labour rights, including the right to strike.

Unite regional coordinating officer Jamie Major said: “Like many other employers in the charity sector, Oxfam exploits its workers’ commitment to its aims by not paying them properly. That Oxfam is even thinking of using unpaid labour to break the strike and refuses to talk to its workers’ union, shows this is an organisation that is in danger of losing its way.

“Our members are striking as a last resort and Unite’s door remains open for talks at any time to resolve this dispute.”

A spokesperson for Oxfam told the Guardian: “While we are disappointed that tomorrow’s strike is going ahead, we do understand the frustration of colleagues who are facing a steeply rising cost of living.

“We are proud to be a real living wage employer and are doing what we can to address colleagues’ concerns within the limits of the resources we have available.”