Union agrees to halt Natural England industrial action after commitment to pay reform

Prospect warns it "will not hesitate" to take further industrial action if progress does not materialise
Photo: Frank Shepherd/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Tevye Markson

29 Jun 2022

Prospect will end industrial action over the “broken pay system” at Natural England after the body agreed to implement changes to pay reform and work more closely with unions.

The union said it will pause industrial action from 30 June having won concessions from Natural England, including an agreement to “work much more closely with Prospect and PCS, with unions forming part of the teams on the staff framework review and pay reform projects”.

Prospect members at Natural England have been taking action short of a strike – which included “working to rule” and “withdrawal of goodwill” – since January over the pay issues and had a mandate to take strike action if no progress was made.

The action aimed to achieve reform to pay structures, which the union has said has caused staff economic hardship.

“This is a victory for Prospect’s industrial action at Natural England, without which we would not now be seeing this commitment from the employer to address the structural pay issues,” Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said.

“We have demonstrated that with strong negotiation backed up by industrial action we can achieve our members’ goals.”

Natural England said ensuring that its staff are “given a fair reward for the vital work they do is a top priority and that is why we have put in place a pay reform project”.

But Graham sounded a warning to the non-departmental public body if it does not deliver on its promises.

“Make no mistake though, calling off this action is a reciprocal gesture of goodwill from Prospect after the employer agreed to address the long-term issues we have seen with pay,” he said.

“If no progress is made and if the overall pay envelope continues to see our members losing money year on year then we will not hesitate to seek further industrial action.”

The union said Natural England’s “broken pay system has left workers even more severely impacted by austerity and the recent pay pause than colleagues elsewhere in Defra and the wider public sector”.

Prospect also pointed out that central government’s pay remit guidance – which will see civil servants earn on average 2-3% extra this year – is “significantly” below inflation, which will mean its members will not see a net improvement in their pay this year.

“Our members are the guardians of the natural environment in England – it’s time the government started treating them as the national asset they are instead of taking them for granted,” Graham added.

A Natural England spokesperson said: “We welcome the decision by Prospect trade union not to seek a new industrial action mandate.

“We look forward to continuing our close partnership working with Prospect and our other trade unions as we progress the next phase of reform, in which the trade unions will play a pivotal role.”

Last week, Prospect and campaigners raised alarm bells after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed it is considering structural changes to Natural England, with reports this could include absorbing the arm’s-length body.

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