Manchester job cuts likely as charity announces more than 200 redundancies

Redundancies are looming at the Manchester office of global charity Oxfam.

The charity has announced plans to axe more than 200 staff at its Oxford headquarters, as well as offices in Manchester, Scotland, Wales, Newcastle, the specialist warehouse in Bicester, and a second-hand clothing recycling site in Batley, Yorkshire.

It said the cuts have been “long-planned”, but the closure of its shop network due to the coronavirus lockdown has seen a huge fall in funding which has added to its problems.

Oxfam GB, which currently employs about 2,040 people in its British operations, estimates that the temporary closure of its shops and cancellation of fundraising events because of the need to combat COVID-19 costs it around £5m-a-month.

This comes on top of an already challenging fundraising environment for the charity sector.

Oxfam said the cutbacks could save the organisation £16m a year. The charity said it will look to avoid redundancies where possible.

The threat of job losses was described as “a tragedy in the fight against global poverty” by Unite, Britain and Ireland largest union.

The job losses will affect the whole workforce including those delivering programmes in such war-torn countries as Yemen, fundraisers and campaigners.

Unite said that the coronavirus funding crisis was the last straw in a series of poor management decisions in recent years.

The union, which has about 400 members at the charity founded in 1942, called for a voluntary redundancy programme to be implemented, rather than swingeing compulsory job losses.

It also renewed its call for the Government to be more generous in its support generally for the not-for-profit sector which, it says, needs a £4bn support package.

So far, ministers have provided £750m in April with the promise of a further £150m from bank accounts lying dormant.

Unite regional officer Jesika Parmar said: “The threatened job losses at Oxfam are a tragedy in the global fight against poverty. Many people don’t realise the extent that Oxfam is a world leader in public health, with dedicated staff who risked their lives to defeat the Ebola outbreaks.

“Without the necessary funding, Oxfam won’t be able to expand its desperately needed coronavirus work to save thousands of lives across the world.

“Unfortunately, despite the ground-breaking work over 70 years that Oxfam has done, our members have lost confidence in senior management. The financial crisis due to COVID-19 has been exacerbated by mismanagement over recent years.

“Oxfam’s directors have refused our requests to open a voluntary redundancy register, to furlough all staff who were made redundant in the last few months, or suspend the redundancy consultation during furlough.

“Oxfam should not be making redundancies while it can still use funding from the job retention scheme (JRS) to pay for 80 per cent of wages.

“Yet, they decided to keep on two directors who had already resigned and are advertising externally for roles that could be filled internally.

“Oxfam practices high ethical values and we suggest that these values should also be applied to its own employees, if it wishes to retain the moral high ground when it talks to governments worldwide.

“We want Oxfam to use natural wastage and voluntary redundancy as we believe this will be much less expensive and ensure that cover for all necessary areas continues.”

Unite national officer for the not-for-profit sector, Siobhan Endean, said: “Oxfam needs to reverse this callous decision to sack a third of its staff during the global pandemic when staff will have no hope of finding new jobs.

“The Government urgently needs to provide dedicated funding for international aid organisations.

“What is happening at Oxfam is, sadly, being replicated across UK charities, as funding is drying up due to coronavirus, and pushing many to the brink of closure at a time when we need a global humanitarian response to the crisis.”

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “These strategic changes are long-planned, but I am sorry to be adding to the concerns of our dedicated and talented staff during this difficult time.

“The financial reality – not least the ongoing and uncertain impact of COVID – requires us to act now to ensure we live within our means. We will continue to consult fully and fairly with staff and their union representatives in reaching a final decision.”

Oxfam said its shops are due to begin reopening on June 15, but the trading outlook remains deeply uncertain.