Trevor* always wanted to work with animals, so when the opportunity arose to work as an inspector for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) more than 15 years ago, he jumped at the chance, got through the rigorous application and training process and landed the job.
“I cannot think of a better job — every day is different. As an animal lover, that I get to help animals on a daily basis is really a dream come true,” he told UniteLive.
The life of an RSPCA inspector is one of endless variety, Trevor explains.
“One day I’m going out to a call where horses have been trapped in a flooded field, another I’m rescuing a fox, and another I’m helping an injured fledgling.
“However, as an inspector I mainly deal with welfare complaints. Some of these complaints are simply misunderstandings but most involve working with people to give them advice about animal welfare. So really I’m often helping both animals and people. Occasionally, I am faced with awful animal suffering from neglect or even intentional cruelty. This is tough but it’s what I am trained to deal with and helping these animals is why I do the job. I never know what to expect on a given day and it really keeps you on your toes.”
Despite the passion for the job that Trevor and his colleagues so clearly have, it’s not a role without its challenges.
“Of course it can be stressful. It’s not unusual to be verbally or physically threatened by members of the public and you have to be outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions. You often work alone and even in the middle of the night. Sometimes you have to put animals to sleep when they are suffering, which can be really tough but it ends that suffering.”
Still, he says he willingly takes on these challenges because it enables him to do what he loves most — help animals.
But now Trevor and his colleagues face a level of stress that’s become intolerable — and it’s got nothing to do with the job itself.
“For years now we’ve been subjected to unimaginable bullying from certain managers,” he explains. “We’re experienced workers who have been here for many years longer than they have but now they are just not listening to us. It seems like they don’t care.
“If they don’t like they look of you, they lay into you. You’re always looking over your shoulder because you’re constantly being watched. They’re making the disciplinary procedure non contractual which means it’s easier for them to change it and probably weaken it – in effect this makes makes it easier to discipline people. I know so many people who’ve left unnecessary disciplinary meetings in tears and even if they keep their job many of them leave anyway because they can’t stand the dreadful culture they’re forced to work in. I hate the way we are treated.”
Against this backdrop of bullying bosses, there came last year in December a breaking point for Trevor and other RSPCA workers.
“Without any reasonable explanation or any actual negotiation, we received new contracts electronically just before Christmas with an expectation that we had to sign them. But when you look at the fine print you realise just how bad these contracts are.”
These new contracts allow ‘performance related pay’ when they haven’t actually described how it will work. It will strip some RSPCA workers of vital allowances that could see workers like Trevor lose up to £4,000 a year. The contracts also threaten the sickness benefit scheme which is there to protect workers like Trevor and his colleagues whose work can be very hazardous.
“I feel especially for the lower-paid workers within the organisation — they absolutely depend on these allowances to make ends meet.”
Sign or be sacked
RSPCA workers are especially angry that these contracts are being unilaterally imposed. They’ve been given a March 31st deadline and many workers have reported seeing bullying behaviour ramped up in the run-up to the deadline. If they don’t sign by the March 31st, they lose their jobs.
“I was at one so-called group consultation meeting when a director even told a low paid colleague that if they couldn’t afford to live where they are because of the cuts, they should just move. For someone earning as much as that Director to say something like that is disgraceful and made the worker cry.”
This, Trevor says, was the final straw and what prompted him and his colleagues to vote decisively for strike action, with 73 per cent in favour.
“It really was a last resort for us. In our nearly 200-year history we’ve never voted for strike action. And in my entire working life I haven’t either — I honestly can’t believe I’m doing it now. But that just shows you how bad the situation is.”
Talk to us plea
“We don’t do this job for the money; we do it because we love the job and we love animals. We are fully committed to the aims of the RSPCA. But management have taken advantage of our goodwill. They say the organisation needs to save money — which I understand. But I don’t see the CEO taking a pay cut. I don’t trust him and know most of the staff no longer have confidence in him or his team.”
“A charity shouldn’t recklessly aim to save money by attacking those who are the backbone of the organisation. There has to be a better way — by talking to us, consulting with us so we can work together. But the trust has completely gone; morale is at rock-bottom and the CEO clearly does not care about us.”
Trevor still believes there is a way out — as long as management comes to the table. This week, the RSPCA CEO agreed to meet for talks with the conciliation service Acas, which are being held today (March 3) and Trevor hopes they will negotiate in good faith.
“All we want is to be listened to,” he said. “We’re so dedicated to our jobs that even if we do take strike action, we already have plans in place to make sure all emergencies are covered and no animal suffers because of this dispute. We just ask that management work with us — for the greater good of the charity and for the animals we serve.”
Acas talks with RSPCA management on Tuesday (March 3) broke down, prompting Unite to say it will soon announce strike dates.
Unite regional officer Jesika Parmar called the Acas talks, where management would not budge on any demands “a shallow manoeuvring tactic to run down the clock to the 31 March deadline for signing the new detrimental contracts by our members.
“As a result, we have no alternative but to announce strike dates by the weekend,” she said. “These will be made public once the management has been informed.
“During the strike days we want to reassure the public that give so generously to the charity that the welfare of the animals in our members’ care will be their top priority,” Parmar went on to say.
“Even at this eleventh hour, we urge the RSPCA to take the road of conciliation, and not confrontation, and resume negotiations in a constructive frame of mind.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.