RSA staff vote overwhelmingly for historic first strike in 270 years

Staff reject 'paltry pay offer' at arts charity

Staff at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) have voted overwhelmingly for strike action which will mark the first for the arts charity in its 270 year history.

Left disappointed by a ‘paltry pay offer’, workers have blasted senior management for a ‘hypocritical’ approach to negotiations, as the IWGB union claims the RSA leadership have seen their pay jump by 170% this year.

The IWGB union reported that pay for RSA bosses increased from £359,000 in 2022 to £976,0000 in 2023, whilst calls for an improved pay offer for staff have been rejected based on insufficient funds.

With a high turnout of 79%, and 93% in favour of strike action, workers are now now taking to the picket lines to demand a pay increase.

It marks further industrial action in the third sector, with staff recently winning a pay rise at the homeless charity St Mungos after a long bitter fight against wage injustice in their workplace. With a similar story of large pay cheques to those at the top, whilst staff share their experiences of their pay being squeezed in the cost-of-living crisis.

Management for the arts charity have refused to move on an initial £1,000 offer to staff averaging around 2.5%, the union has said. Staff are demanding a below-inflation flat pay rise of £2,800 for all staff members.

The charity, which boasts being at the forefront of ‘significant social impact’, has also been blasted as ‘hypocritical’ for the management’s ‘dismissive’ and ‘undemocratic’ approach to negotiations, one member of staff told The Observer.

In a statement, RSA Union branch said the strike could be, “easily avoidable if management return to the table with an improved offer that would cost them less than 3% of unrestricted reserves”.

Another staff member said workers were “united in our disappointment” at the management’s “paltry” offer and “cynical approach to negotiations”. Most junior members of staff have seen their pay fall below inflation.

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 and 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 £32 million. 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 have said they are: “Extremely disappointed that the IWGB union has chosen this moment to distract staff from our important work by encouraging 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”

They have also disputed claims made by the union over pay increases for bosses.

The RSA said in a statement: “Over the last year, the charity has filled vacancies at the executive level and our CEO has returned from a government secondment.

“No executives received an in-role pay increase this year and our CEO has seen no increase in pay since his appointment two years ago.

“It appears that unreliable data sources have been used and that non-executive salaries have been included in the cost calculations with the express purpose of misleading the public and damaging the reputation of senior management of the RSA.”

Workers at the institution will take strike action on Tuesday 19th and Thursday 21st September.

(Image credit: CGP Gray / Creative Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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