“As vacancies go unfilled for months, caseloads go up and we struggle to cover the extra work, we’re all burning out. But as our strike shows: we’ve still got enough fire in our belly to fight for the charity we’re meant to be.”
As St Mungo’s staff gear up for a four-week strike from the end of May, a Unite the Union member explains how they got there.
In 2021 we had spent a year on the frontline of the pandemic, having been designated essential workers by the government and risked our own health and wellbeing to care for the most vulnerable in the most challenging of circumstances. Yet as RPI inflation hit 9%, our reward for this was a mere 1.75% pay increment – a real-terms pay cut of 7.5% for that year alone.
We weren’t happy, but bosses said that was all they could afford to raise anyone’s salary post-COVID – so you can imagine how we felt when, after months of senior management claiming we were all in this together, company accounts revealed that our CEO’S wages rose by over double that (5%) the same year. We saw then that this was just more of the same steady erosion of frontline wages which has been happening year-on-year since 2010.
In view of this, Unite has been campaigning to rectify our 2021 pay loss, which has of course only been compounded by the spiralling cost-of-living crisis. Yet after more than a year of attempted negotiation, including through ACAS, all bosses had offered by April 2023 was a one-off, unconsolidated payment of £700 per employee before tax. When that prompted a 93% vote to strike, they offered the same amount consolidated – and threatened to take even that off the table if we didn’t accept it and back down straight away. We didn’t, so the strike begins on 30th May.
Our pay dispute is only a symptom of wider trends within the organisation that have concerned frontline staff for some time, though. CEO pay has risen in excess of 68% in the last decade, and senior management wages by 350% since 2010; in the same period, ordinary staff have experienced a 30% real-terms pay-cut. Alongside this, the number of senior management roles guzzling up higher wages has proliferated exponentially, while essential client-facing roles and services are cut. Workers can no longer help but acknowledge this for what it is – a calculated redistribution of wealth from frontline services to senior management, in what is meant to be a charity.
This is all the less defensible when you understand that even while paying themselves such grossly inflated salaries, senior management can still afford to pay their employees more but are choosing not to. While St Mungo’s refuse to share their full accounts with Unite, they can’t hide their annual audited reports, which have shown a cash balance of around £22million for two years in a row, with reserves well above the charity’s target. Their latest report explicitly cited having “budgeted for a small deficit but achieved a small operating surplus position due to lower than anticipated staff costs” – and yet they plead poverty when the staff upon whose backs they made those profits ask for a raise. While frontline staff help the homeless, senior management help themselves.
It’s no wonder then that at St Mungo’s today, staff retention is notoriously low and union membership at a record high. Nobody comes into this sector expecting an easy ride, yet as vacancies go unfilled for months, caseloads go up and we struggle to cover the extra work, we’re all burning out. But as our strike shows: we’ve still got enough fire in our belly to fight for the charity we’re meant to be.
- You can donate to the hardship fund for Unite members striking at St Mungo’s here.
- You can show your support for the St Mungo’s strikers and the campaign from the Unite Housing Workers Branch on twitter here.