Staff at Oxfam will be balloted for strike action for the first time in the charity’s 81-year history.
Some staff are arguing that they have been forced to use food banks and cannot afford to pay their rent, in a dispute over pay.
Unite said its members, most earning ‘little more’ than the minimum wage, had rejected a ‘substandard’ pay offer of £1,750 or 6% – whichever is higher – plus a one-off payment of £1,000.
The ballot will start on Thursday and run until November 16.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘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 food banks and unable to pay their rent.
‘How can its leadership possibly justify ignoring its workers’ demands to be paid fairly and blocking their union?
Staff at Oxfam will be balloted for strike action for the first time in the charity’s 81-year history
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘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.’
Unite said that average wages at Oxfam have fallen by 21% in real terms since 2018.
A recent Unite survey of almost 150 Oxfam workers said that in the last year, 8% had used food banks while 22% had not been able to pay their rent.
The union also said that Oxfam’s union members rejected the charity’s pay offer by 79% in a ballot.
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.’
He added: ‘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.’
An Oxfam GB spokesperson said: ‘As a real living wage employer and an organisation committed to tackling poverty, Oxfam is acutely aware of the impact of the rising cost of living on colleagues and addressing that is a priority for us. That is why we chose to bring forward pay increases for lower paid colleagues and why we have ensured that these colleagues will have received a real terms pay increase over the past 12 months.
‘We believe this pay award is fair and it is at the limit of what Oxfam can afford without taking vital resources away from our work fighting poverty with communities around the world. Colleagues understand that we face limited resources and tough choices and we hope they will recognise that when casting their ballot.
‘We value the work of our trade unions and would much rather have reached agreement with Unite but what they are asking for is simply not affordable at a time when many of the communities we work with are also facing sharply rising costs.’
This is not the first time that UK charity staff have gone on strike.
Earlier this year, workers at homeless charity St Mungo’s launched a three month-long strike in a dispute over pay.
They ultimately ended their long running industrial action after securing a 10.7% pay increase, Unite the Union said.
Based on the median salary within the charity, the increase equated to £3,125 in cash terms – this total included a one-off payment of £700.