RSA employees push for historic trade union recognition agreement with IWGB Union

Mon, Oct 10, 2022, 8:13 AM
  • Staff at the Royal Society of Arts from the IWGB union are pushing for statutory trade union recognition for the first time in the society’s 270-year history.
  • The IWGB currently represents approximately 50% of RSA employees as part of its Charity Workers Branch.
  • The RSA has a history of supporting and promoting trade unionism, and awarded the IWGB union a Future of Work Award in 2019.

Monday 10 October: Staff at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) from the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) are pushing for statutory recognition, after the RSA denied three requests for voluntary recognition. A recognition agreement with the society — which has long advocated for trade union rights — would be the first of its kind in the organisation’s 270-year history, which includes Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, and Nelson Mandela among its past fellows.

The RSA’s rejection of voluntary union recognition is at odds with its previous publications and public stance on the importance of unions. The RSA has advocated for the scrapping of anti trade union laws and has invited union leaders to speak to employees. It also previously awarded the IWGB a Future of Work Award, citing that it was the “first trade union to score major successes for gig workers in the UK, through public campaigning and legal cases.”

Amidst the cost of living crisis, RSA staff saw employer pension contributions halved and changes made to pay and reward policies without meaningful consultation. Many staff have also faced changes to their job roles without consultation, part of a culture of top-down decision making that has developed over the past year. A recognition deal would represent a major step forward for workplace democracy at the RSA, with staff negotiating on all matters relating to pay and conditions.

Union representation at work is a fundamental right. The IWGB represents approximately 50% of RSA staff, well over the 10% minimum needed for statutory recognition. The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) approved the IWGB’s request to begin the statutory trade union recognition process this summer, after a survey showed that the majority of staff in favour of organising.

The unionisation of staff at the RSA follows the ongoing resurgence of trade unionism across the UK, with a summer of strikes from big unions such as the RMT and the CWU, as well as growing momentum from independent grassroots trade unions like the IWGB and UVW.

Ruth Hannan, RSA Staff Member, says: “Coming together with my colleagues to choose our union, and to support others to understand the value of being in the union has been a positive ray of light in a difficult two years. Being in a union enables the RSA to be a more collaborative, more forward-looking organisation, and a more democratic place to work. It is also a more enjoyable place to work; through organising, I have come to know more colleagues than before and build wonderful relationships with other members of staff, many of whom live in a different city to me. For me, a unionised RSA can only keep improving”.

Ajmal Waqif, Chair of the Charity Workers' Branch (IWGB), says: “This is an exciting moment for both RSA and the Charity Workers Branch. The RSA has been a long-time advocate for trade unions in the UK and it’s inspiring to see the workforce holding the organisation to these ideals. We now hope RSA management recognise the democratic will of staff and commit to engaging with the union constructively to secure the improvements everyone working at RSA deserves.”

Alex Marshall, President (IWGB), says: “Everybody deserves a voice at work. That’s why staff at the RSA have come together and democratically chosen the IWGB as their union to represent them. The RSA has rightly championed this kind of workplace democracy and it is surprising to see senior management so far attempting to avoid a recognition deal. We are confident that through this deal, we can create a fairer, more democratic working environment at this historic institution."

Interviews with workers are available upon request.

For more information, please contact:
James Vail, Press & Communications Officer

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