The charity is facing its first strike in its 270-year history
A near-300-year-old charity is facing the first strike of its staff in history following an overwhelming ballot result amongst workers.
Staff at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), represented by the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) are set to make history with the first strike since the charity was founded 270 years ago.
Workers will walk out on September 19 and 21, the second day of which will coincide with a visit to the charity from the Princess Royal.
The result of the vote was 93.33% in favour of strike action, with 78.95% of union members turning out.
The RSA, which has counted Karl Marx, Nelson Mandela and Stephen Hawking amongst its fellows, is facing strike action after failing to address the real terms pay cuts and refusing to negotiate with the IWGB over pay.
Staff are demanding a below-inflation flat pay rise of £2,800 for all staff members, whilst the RSA have refused to move from their initial offer of £1,000 for all staff, averaging at a 2.5% increase across the board.
Whilst most junior staff members’ pay has fallen below the level of inflation, money spent on the RSA’s leadership team jumped 170% this year from £359,000 to £976,000.
Daniel, a staff member at the RSA, said: “This result confirms what we already knew - that a majority of staff are united in our disappointment with management’s paltry pay offer and their cynical approach to negotiations.
“Management’s failure to engage with the collective voice of the workforce in a mature way has led us to this point.”
The IWGB agreed recognition at the charity in 2022 following three previous attempts which were reportedly blocked by management, which came into effect in March 2023.
This will be the latest in a series of third sector strikes to hit high profile charities this year, including an indefinite strike that recently concluded at the homeless charity St Mungo’s.
Despite citing insufficient funds to award staff members their proposed pay rise, the RSA did agree to spend £976,000 on remuneration for its leadership team in 2022-2023, 170% more than the previous year, as reported in the RSA’s latest impact report.
The RSA dispute that this was a result of in-post increases, describing the claims as “wholly inaccurate and misleading” and pointing to filled vacancies at the executive level and the charity’s CEO returning from a government secondment.
Reports suggest it could cost the RSA less than 3% of their unrestricted reserves to implement a pay rise.
Alex Marshall, President of the IWGB, said: “Throughout the union recognition process and now pay negotiations, Andy Haldane and his team have cynically attempted to undermine democracy, sew division & impose a meagre raise during a cost of living crisis.
“Meanwhile senior management not only enjoy bumper salaries but are also sat on reserves of £32million.
“The result of the ballot reflects workers’ resolve to win the pay rise they deserve and they will not give up until they have won it.”
The RSA told TFN it would not be able to comment on the outcome of the strike ballot or prospective strike action as it had not been informed of the result by the union.
The charity issued a statement ahead of the outcome of the ballot, which claimed its reserves “are in the main tied up in fixed assets”, restricted funds, and endowments meaning “such reserves are not available to cover operating costs including staff salaries”.
They added that pay discussions between the RSA and IWGB have been ongoing since the union was formally recognised in March 2023, and that the charity are committed to a review of staff pay in September following reforecasting its income and expenditure. The RSA said this commitment “has been communicated on several occasions to all staff and to IWGB”.
They added: “We are extremely disappointed that the IWGB union has chosen this moment to encourage industrial action rather than engaging collaboratively, as requested, in talks with ACAS or returning to collective bargaining conversations in September to which we have already committed.
“We are also disappointed that there is continued publication of inaccurate and misleading information about our charity in the public domain. The unsubstantiated and personalised attacks on RSA senior management, baseless claims and deceptive information are not in the interests of harmonious industrial relations or the wellbeing of our staff team.
“IWGB’s decision to push for industrial action at this moment, alongside supporting the sharing of inaccurate and misleading information in the media, seems to be motivated by disrupting our charitable work at a time of huge excitement and opportunity and using our good name to gain publicity for themselves rather than protecting the welfare of our people or the interests of our charity. This is deeply regrettable.”