'The hypocrisy's astounding' | Oxfam workers prepare to strike over 'poverty pay' amid food bank usage

Oxfam workers prepare to strike over 'poverty pay' amid food bank usage

International charity organisation Oxfam is facing mounting scrutiny and worker discontent as its staff members prepare to strike over what they describe as 'poverty pay.'

The union representing Oxfam workers, Unite, has accused the charity of hypocrisy, given its robust financial health, while a significant number of its employees have reportedly resorted to using food banks and struggle to pay rent.

In a recent survey conducted by Unite, which polled nearly 150 Oxfam workers, it was found that over the past year, eight per cent of the surveyed staff have had to resort to food banks, while 22% have been unable to afford their rent.

Even more distressing, 34% of these employees had to make the agonizing choice between heating their homes and feeding their families.

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The pay dispute is further exacerbated by the fact that most of Oxfam's office and retail workers earn little more than the minimum wage, leaving them grappling with the harsh realities of the rising cost of living.

Oxfam's total income for 2022 stood at £373million, representing 86% of the pre-pandemic income level, which was £434million, according to Unite.

The union also highlighted that Oxfam's cash surplus is higher now than it was before the pandemic.

Sharon Graham, Unite's General Secretary, expressed her astonishment at the stark contrast between Oxfam's financial health and the plight of its employees.

She 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."

Oxfam workers have rejected a pay increase offer of £1,750, coupled with a one-off payment of £1,000, which equates to a six per cent increase or the option with the higher amount, reflecting their dissatisfaction with the offer.

Unite alleges that the average wages at Oxfam have fallen by 21% in real terms since 2018.

In response to the brewing discontent, Oxfam has chosen to impose the pay offer and has refused to engage in further negotiations with Unite, even though the union's members rejected the offer by a substantial 79% in a ballot.

In response to this, Unite is set to ballot its members for strike action, scheduled to take place from October 26th to November 16th.

Oxfam GB released a statement addressing the situation, explaining that as a real living wage employer and an organisation ‘committed to tackling poverty’, and is aware of the challenges posed by the rising cost of living for their colleagues.

The organisation also stated that it has made efforts to provide pay increases for lower-paid colleagues over the past year, ensuring that they receive real-terms pay raises.

However, Unite contends that the workers' request for a pay rise that would reflect the historic low pay, escalating living costs, and Oxfam's strong financial position has been disregarded.

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Unite's Regional Coordinating Officer, Jamie Major, expressed concern about the potential damage to Oxfam's reputation, stating, "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 GB maintains that they would prefer to reach an agreement with Unite, but the union's demands are simply not affordable at a time when many of the communities they work with are also facing sharply rising costs.

As the strike vote approaches, the charity faces a significant challenge in reconciling its commitment to fighting global poverty with the grievances of its own workers over what they see as inadequate compensation for their contributions.

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