Oxfam workers to strike over pay as staff at anti-poverty charity use food banks to survive

Oxfam workers are voting to strike for the first time as some staff say they are being forced to use food banks because of low pay.

The charity has been accused of “hypocrisy” as many workers say they are struggling with the cost of living crisis despite working for a company with a mission to “end poverty”.

A recent survey of almost 150 Oxfam workers found that 8 per cent had used food banks, 29 per cent expected to have to, 22 per cent were unable to pay their rent and 34 per cent had to choose between heating their homes. and feeding their families.

By contrast, Oxfam's total income for 2022 was £373m, 86 per cent of the pre-pandemic level of £434m, the Unite union said.

An Oxfam worker who has been with the company for over a decade said: “We believe so much in Oxfam. We put our heart and soul into it, we believe in the work we do at great personal cost to all of us.

“This year in particular has been very difficult, people have had to leave because they just can't afford to be here anymore. They don't want to leave, but they have no choice.

“I'm not even one of the lowest paid workers, but I had to sit in my living room without the heating. I could see my breath.

“It's not just a title, these are real people who can't afford to eat. These are my colleagues and some of the stories are painful. One of the biggest things people feel is that it's hypocritical. We want a leadership that will have the conversations and will be committed to our values.”

Oxfam's research also reveals that 4 per cent of 150 staff respondents had become homeless while at the charity, while a significant majority, 76 per cent, had to “put off buying essentials until their next payday ».

Workers have rejected a £1,750-a-year pay rise, but average wages have fallen by 21 per cent since 2018 in real terms, according to Unite.

The cost of living crisis has led to an unprecedented increase in the use of food banks


If the strike goes ahead, it will be the first time in the charity's 81-year history. Oxfam describes itself as “part of a global movement of millions of people working together to end poverty”.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Oxfam's hypocrisy is astonishing. It is a charity in strong financial health that makes a big deal of being part of the Ethical Trading Initiative and offering the virtues of trade unions to lift workers out of poverty.

“Meanwhile, Oxfam staff themselves are paid poverty wages, with some using food banks and unable to pay their rent. How can its leadership justify ignoring its workers' demands to be paid fairly and blocking their union?

“Oxfam can well afford to pay a reasonable increase without the slightest impact on its operations here or abroad.”

A spokesperson for Oxfam GB said: “As a living wage employer and an organization committed to tackling poverty, Oxfam is acutely aware of the impact of the rising cost of living on colleagues and tackling this is a priority for us.

“This is why we have chosen to go ahead with pay rises for the lowest paid colleagues and why we have ensured that these colleagues have received a real pay rise over the last 12 months.

“We believe this fee is fair and is at the limit of what Oxfam can afford without taking vital resources away from our work to fight poverty with communities around the world. Colleagues understand that we face limited resources and difficult choices and we hope they will recognize this when they vote.

“We appreciate the work of our unions and would have preferred to have reached an agreement with Unite, but what they are asking for is not affordable at a time when many of the communities we work with are also facing sharply rising costs.”