A union leader has urged employers to work with her organization – or risk the veterinary sector’s cost of living crisis becoming much worse.
British Veterinary Union (BVU) chairperson Suzanna Hudson-Cooke said recent pay increases in the sector were inadequate and revealed members were already reporting staff giving up their jobs because of rising costs.
The warning follows the union’s latest branch meeting on July 19, which Dr. Hudson-Cooke said included “quite a long discussion” on the continuing cost of living crisis.
Latest figures showed the UK’s inflation rate climbed to a 40-year high of 9.4% in June and there are continuing fears over further price hikes to come.
Dr Hudson-Cooke, who is a practicing vet in Kent, said the meeting had been told of cases where staff had left their jobs because they could not afford the fuel to get to work.
And she fears a lack of action now could “hasten the collapse of the veterinary industry”.
She said: “The problems have been going on for such a long time. I think we swept them under the rug for years and they really came to a head during COVID.”
Dr. Hudson-Cooke acknowledged that most employers had increased pay to staff or were in the process of doing so.
But she said the offers were “nowhere near” either the level of inflation or the price increases that are being imposed on pet owners.
She also argued that pay offers that were not in line with inflation were effective cuts and unacceptable – particularly for lower-paid staff.
Investing in people
In early July, IVC Evidensia announced a 6% wage rise for staff, to be implemented from October, on top of further increases introduced in January.
A spokesperson said the company had brought forward its pay review in response to the current crisis and argued that the new increase was worth more than 6% because it was based on common pay standards.
The spokesperson added: “The IVC Evidence leadership team has been engaging with our people on what matters to them, including at our recent National UK Forum for employees. Our amazing people are core to our success, and investing in them through pay, benefits and best-in-class training is vital to make sure we attract and retain talented vets, vet nurses and support teams.
“We keep our training, benefits and rewards under regular review, and are committed to being the employer of choice for the profession.”
Elsewhere, Medivet set out plans to pay all its RVNs at least £30,000 a year in May, while the CVS Group committed itself to paying its lowest-paid workers at least 3% above the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.
Neither company has responded directly to the union’s comments.
However, at the time of its RVN announcement, Medivet bosses said the £30,000 base salary was justified by the work RVNs now do in practices, while CVS bosses said its pay plan was critical to its vision “to be the veterinary company people most want to work for”.
The other major care providers – Linneaus, Vets4Pets and VetPartners – were also approached for comment, but have so far not responded.
The BVU, which has been a branch of Unite since 2012, does not currently have a recognition agreement with any of the big six veterinary providers, although negotiations are taking place with one. It does have a recognition agreement with the RSPCA.
Asked if she had a specific message for employers, Dr Hudson-Cooke said: “Talk to us. We want to work with you to make the veterinary sector a better place for everyone who works in it. Our members are the people on the front line providing care.
“The industry is already in crisis and not paying staff adequately is only going to hasten the height of that crisis.”
She said she was also worried about a potential knock-on impact on mental health if rising prices force workers to give up aspects of their lives that are important for their well-being, such as gym memberships.
Dr. Hudson-Cooke’s comments come only weeks after VMG president Rich Casey warned that the veterinary sector was “more brittle than ever” because of rising costs and other longer-term pressures.
He committed to playing his part in the effort to find solutions, having previously urged practices to be open and transparent with staff and customers about the challenges they face, including potentially suggesting alternative treatments to clients who are struggling financially.
He said: “I would be more than happy to sit round a table with the BVU to discuss how we can help navigate these waters.”