Staff at the long-established Mayhew animal charity in North West London, patron the Duchess of Sussex, are holding a ballot for industrial action over staffing levels and trade union recognition, Unite the union said today (Wednesday 17 November).

The ballot for strike action and industrial action short of a strike by staff from across the organisation, including kennels, cattery and clinic, runs from 19 November until 10 December.

Unite said that the dispute is over staffing levels, the strategy of the organisation and trade union recognition; following the charity’s so-called ‘rationalisation’ plan for UK operations which could lead to a 40 per cent reduction in vet nurses, a 50 per cent cut in cleaning hours and a 75 per cent cut in reception staff, as well as a reduction in animal welfare officers. 

This is on top of a pay and recruitment freeze over the last year for the 60-strong UK workforce which has meant that staff levels have dropped drastically at the charity which traces its origins back to 1886.

Unite regional officer Matt Freeman said: “We are holding this industrial action ballot over the charity’s unacceptable proposals for staffing levels and a consistent failure to listen to staff. The ballot will be a key part of our campaign to ensure that our members once again work to uphold the best standards of animal welfare and the trustees of the Mayhew should know that they cannot continue to ignore Unite members.

“Staff have been crystal clear that they demand a voice at work and Unite are determined to provide that. There is still a window of opportunity, while the ballot is being conducted, when we can sit down with the charity for constructive talks about the best way forward for the organisation, the staff and members of public who look to the Mayhew for the care and treatment of their pets.”

Suzanna Hudson-Cooke, branch chair of British Veterinary Union (BVU) in Unite, has written to the charity’s trustees urging them not to make ‘hasty decisions’ to cut jobs. 

She said: “The veterinary sector is in crisis. Whilst some factors affecting this crisis are outside our – and your – control, such as Brexit and Covid-19, other factors are within your control.

“Those who work in the veterinary and animal welfare sectors care deeply about the animals they work with every day, and are at a high risk of compassion fatigue. Couple this with severe staff shortages, leading to overwork and burnout, and you have the perfect recipe for mental health disaster.

“By cutting jobs, the Mayhew would be increasing the workload for the remaining employees, who are already struggling, and reducing their ability to advocate to the best of their ability for the animals in their care.”

According to the charity’s website, as well as its patron the Duchess of Sussex, celebrity supporters include actors Joanna Lumley and Sir Tony Robinson, and documentary maker Louis Theroux. 

Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers' living standards.


Notes to editors:      

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

Please note the numbers above are for journalists’ enquiries only.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: 

Unite is the leading union in the UK and Ireland, dedicated to defending and improving members' jobs, pay and conditions. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.