Union rebuffs Defra pay offer

Department should offer staff an across-the-board £300 bonus instead of non-consolidated individual awards, says PCS
Defra's Marsham Street HQ, which it shares with the Home Office and MHCLG Credit: Steve Cadman/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jim Dunton

17 Sep 2021

The civil service’s biggest union has rejected a 2021 pay offer from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that was tabled earlier this week.

PCS said Defra’s proposal for a non-consolidated pay rise, to be based on the performance of individual staff or sections – in keeping with chancellor Rishi Sunak’s current-year pay freeze for all but the lowest paid civil servants, was the wrong approach.

The union said the only area for discussion with senior departmental officials had been the non-consolidated element of the pay award, which would be distributed at the discretion of Defra’s remuneration committee.

It said the proposed non-consolidated end-of-year payments should be distributed equally to all Defra staff “to reward everyone for their work in helping the department carry on functioning over the past 18 months”.

“There have been examples of this being done in the civil and public service this year as all members of staff in DWP have received an equal bonus, and Natural England have shown that there are areas within the Defra group which believe this was the best way to reward their staff this year,” the union said.

It added that figures tabled during the talks suggested that an across-the-board bonus paid to all staff, regardless of grade or section, would see everyone receive a payment of at least £300.

“This payment would in no way compensate for the fact that many of our members are not receiving a consolidated pay rise this year but would be a recognition of the year we have all had,” PCS said.

A PCS spokesperson said that despite the rejection,  the union expected the offer to be imposed by Defra management. They added that  members’ meetings would be held to engage and discuss the position on this year’s pay as well as the expected direction of travel with discussions of pay business cases.

The spokesperson said Defa’s offer may well have been constrained by Treasury guidance. But they said it had still focused “far too much” on maintaining disproportionate bonuses to those who had exceeded in their work output, rather than reflecting the work all staff had done in the last year delivering Brexit and working through the pandemic. 

“PCS was clear with Defra management that this also unfairly advantaged Defra core staff in a pay area that covered not only Defra core, but also the Rural Payments Agency, Animal Plant Health Agency and Veterinary Medicines Directorate,” they said.

“PCS has rejected the offer as it was unfair, unequal and vastly below inflation, even before the NI decision by the government.”

A Defra spokesperson said the department had followed civil service pay guidance in drawing up its 2021 offer and that the guidance explicitly stated non-consolidated payments must be performance-related, not split equally among staff.

“As with all civil service organisations, Defra is covered by the Civil Service Pay Remit Guidance and therefore followed this guidance when undertaking this year’s annual pay review,” the spokesperson said.

Defra said its remuneration committee had agreed to target performance-related payments at staff categorised as having achieved a “good” level of performance or “exceeded” level of performance in the 2020-21 period. It said previously only those in the “exceeded” category would have received an additional payment.

The department added that in a concession to unions the remuneration committee had also agreed to reduce differences in values between performance-related payments.

Despite the current year pay-freeze for civil servants earning more than £24,000 a year, staff at some departments have been able to secure significant rises through bespoke deals.

In February,  HM Revenue and Customs announced a three-year deal worth an average of 13% to staff, which was subsequently accepted. Last week, unions representing officials at the Ministry of Justice confirmed members had accepted a deal worth an average of 9.9% over three years, in return for changes to working hours and overtime rates.

This story was updated at 15:40 on 17 September 2021 to include a response from Defra

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