Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Loach calls for boycott of Shelter in row over job cuts

Ever since Ken Loach's classic Cathy Come Home highlighted the plight of the homeless, the film director and the charity Shelter appeared to be a match made in heaven.

Loach's angry, ground-breaking television play caused a national outcry, led to questions in Parliament and coincided with Shelter's launch, giving its founders a publicity boost beyond their wildest dreams.



But after four decades, the relationship is in on the rocks with Loach and Shelter locked in an acrimonious battle of words.



Loach has been at loggerheads with Shelter since it announced it would have to make some staff redundant and increase working hours for remaining employees. Loach has called for a donors to boycott Shelter, prompting the charity's chief executive, Adam Sampson, to warn that his attack will only serve to hurt the poor and vulnerable people the charity is trying to help.



Hundreds of its workers are expected to strike next Wednesday over redundancies and plans to add extra hours without additional pay. Staff insist it will mean lost pay of an average £1,700 a year. As one might expect of a lifelong socialist, Loach has come down on the side of the workers describing the organisation's changes as intolerable.



"I think Shelter's behaviour is outrageous, telling workers to accept a deal or face redundancy," he said. "I won't be able to support Shelter and I don't think others should. Shelter has always been campaigning and critical of government but it has become corporate and had its teeth drawn." Mr Sampson replied: "It is very unfortunate that Ken Loach, who has been a Shelter supporter for more than 40 years, should call on other supporters to stop donations to the charity. This only serves to hurt the very people we all want to help. Our duty is, and will remain, to help and protect some of the most needy and poorest people in our society, and protecting services to them sometimes means us taking difficult decisions."



The charity insists that changes to the terms and conditions of its staff, including increasing the working week from 35 to 37.5 hours; ending automatic increments while retaining the annual cost of living increase; and making up to five staff redundant including one compulsory redundancy, are essential to prevent the loss of 200 jobs. Those who chose not to work under the new terms will be dismissed, the charity says, "with regret".



Shelter's wage bill had been rising by £1m a year, a spokesman said, and it was paying out more than it was bringing in.



Mr Sampson said the decision – which was necessary to help it compete successfully for government legal services contracts – had not been taken lightly but after a period of negotiation with the trade union which failed to find any "realistic alternatives".



Mr Sampson added: "Even after these changes, terms and conditions for all Shelter staff will remain at least as good as those in comparable charities. To ensure fairness to all our staff we use an independent organisation to benchmark our wages.



"We are disappointed that some staff will take strike action, and we appreciate that feelings are running high. But people give us money not to benefit our staff but to benefit those we were set up to serve – the poor, the vulnerable, the homeless – and our moral and legal duty is to use that money as efficiently as possible."

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