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Homeless Charity CEO Accused of Foul-Mouthed Tirade at Union as Pay Dispute Turns Toxic

Staff of St Mungo’s charity have begun an indefinite strike over pay, following allegations of a ‘25 minute shouting match’ at union reps by CEO Emma Haddad

Emma Haddad St Mungos CEO screengrab
Emma Haddad, St Mungos CEO. Photo: Screengrab

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The chief executive of one of England’s largest homeless charities has been accused of launching a foul-mouthed tirade against trade union reps as a dispute over pay threatens to topple the management. 

Staff at St Mungo’s begin an “indefinite” strike today amid mounting anger over pay, after staff received a pay offer of 2.25%. The Unite union says that staff are “desperate” as the cost of living crisis means that many workers are struggling to make ends meet and are calling for a pay rise that keeps up with inflation.

Unite reps at the charity allege that they faced “25 minutes [of] shouting and repeatedly swearing at the reps” last Tuesday from St Mungo’s chief executive Emma Haddad.

Afterwards, Haddad sent an email to the reps apologising for the tirade and saying that she was under pressure.

Haddad joined St Mungo’s as its chief executive last November, amid a bubbling staff revolt over low pay. She was previously the Government’s non-political director general for asylum and protection under Boris Johnson. 

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In a separate Q&A with St Mungo’s workers about the dispute, Unite reps allege that they overheard the charity boss say that she was going to “humour” staff. 

Unite’s dispute relates to the national pay rise awarded for 2021/22. A pay rise of 1.75% was implemented – at a time when inflation was around 10% – for 2021/22. Unite is asking to increase the pay rise for 2021/22 to 10%, in a backdated and consolidated pay rise for all eligible colleagues. St Mungo’s says that it “cannot afford this”. 

Unite balloted more than 500 workers across southern England including in London, Bristol, Brighton, Oxford, Bournemouth and Reading. Unite membership has now grown to 800 since the dispute began.

St Mungo’s has an annual income of £119 million as of 2022, with £55 million of it coming from more than 100 government contracts for providing homelessness services. It provides accommodation and support services in cities including London, Leicester, Brighton, Bristol and provides a bed to nearly 3,000 rough sleepers a night. 

A Unite rep at St Mungo’s said Emma Haddad “spent 25 minutes shouting and repeatedly swearing at the reps, so the meeting lasted just 25 minutes”.

“Why would anyone want to put up with that kind of behaviour?” he said. “It’s fascinating. What’s even more fascinating is that she sent an email to the representatives apologising, saying ‘this is not me, I’m under so much pressure’.”

He added: “What she shows is absolute hypocrisy in so many ways. Senior managers in organisations like St Mungo’s seem to forget that frontline workers are also human. They have to deal with challenging behaviour from people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or going through a mental health crisis. They are told that they have to be emotionally resilient.”

A spokesperson for St Mungo’s did not deny the claims, saying that its leadership team “met with Unite representatives again on 20 June 2023, to continue discussing how we might bring this period of unprecedented strike action to an end” and that it is “aware of allegations raised about the meeting and they are being taken seriously in line with our existing procedures”.

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Another trade union rep, who has been at St Mungo’s for two decades, added: “I’ve been involved in many disputes at St Mungo’s over the years but this one’s different… We’ve got representatives who are 30 years of age, people who perhaps wouldn’t usually be involved in politics, but they’ve been really galvanised and energised…

“St Mungo’s is going to change, not just for the staff but also for the bosses, the representatives, and the people who picket. This change is taking place by engaging with things such as governance: [asking] ‘what the hell are the city financiers doing on the board?… But these questions are being asked, and the workplace is going to be really different. The workforce has been awakened.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The charity’s staff do not take indefinite strike action lightly but they face a desperate situation – they need St Mungo’s to listen and act.

“The indifference of the management to their own staff smacks of the corporatisation of the charity sector. It’s Corporate Britain plc arriving in the charity sector. St Mungo’s have executives on well over £100,000 a year and the same people insist their workers should exist on poverty wages with actual wage cuts.”

After tax and deductions, many frontline workers at the charity will take home less than £20,000 a year, Unite says, adding that many of the workers are now in fear themselves after being unable to pay their rent or mortgage on their current poverty wages.

A St Mungo’s spokesperson added: “We are firmly committed to finding a solution to end this pay dispute at the earliest opportunity, so we can continue to focus on our important work supporting people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.” 

This week, Prince William – heir to the British throne – launched a five-year campaign to end homelessness, with his charitable foundation putting in £3 million of start-up funding to help make homelessness “rare, brief and unrepeated”. Some concerns have been raised about his mission, given the prince’s wealth and extensive property holdings.

Disclosure: Josiah Mortimer edits one of the Unite union’s newsletters, for an unrelated sector.

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