Unions blast Defra's 'bargain basement' pay offer

Unions say pay rises less generous than they appear because offer is “loaded" with non-consolidated money
The FDA also said the offer is a "Reliant Robin masquerading as a Rolls Royce". Photo: Niall Carson/PA Archive/PA Images

Three trade unions have written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs seeking an “urgent meeting” about its pay offer, saying the department has failed to use all the tools at its disposal to secure a fair pay rise for its workers.

In a letter to environment secretary George Eustice this week, the FDA, PCS and Prospect trade unions said that while Defra has claimed to be offering an average 2.75% pay increase to its staff, the reality is much less generous.

The latest pay remit guidance from the Cabinet Office allows departments to use up to 2.5% of pay bill on consolidated pay awards, provided they are approved by the secretary of state.

The unions said they had made the case to Defra to use the full 2.5% in this way – but that the department had failed to do so, choosing instead to “load its offer with a high percentage of non-consolidated money”.

Consolidated pay is treated as part of an employee’s overall pay and counts towards their pension, whereas a non-consolidated award is treated as an allowance paid on top of someone’s salary. Non-consolidated awards are one-off payments and are not used to calculate other benefits such as overtime or pensions.

The result is that civil servants in the middle of their pay grades will instead receive a less-than 1.5% increase in their consolidated pay, and pay for many at the top of their grades will rise by just 0.5%.

“This reliance on non-consolidated money further erodes the real value of Defra’s pay structure and will inevitably lead to disgruntlement once staff see beyond the headline figure and realise what they are actually receiving in consolidated pay,” the letter said.

The unions urged the department to revise its offer, using 2.5% of its pay bill in consolidated pay awards as allowed under the latest guidance.

Defra has also failed to make a business case to the Treasury to reform its overall pay structures and “fix longstanding pay anomalies”, the unions said.

“We have been reassured year after year that a business case is being considered only to find once again that the department does not consider its own staff a high enough priority to make one,” they added.

They called on the department to make a full business case to the Treasury for higher pay awards in 2021.

Steven Littlewood, national officer for the FDA, which represents senior civil servants, told CSW: “Defra has been boasting about its headline figures, but what the department consistently evades is the fact that they had it available to them to pursue an increase of 2.5% in consolidated pay and they chose not to do so. Instead, they have relied heavily on non-consolidated payments which do not increase base pay and, crucially, which cost the department less.

“The department is not only giving staff a bargain basement pay offer, they are passing it off as something much more generous. Effectively this pay deal is a Reliant Robin masquerading as a Rolls Royce.”

A Defra spokesperson said the deal represented the best possible pay offer to the trade unions. They noted that to increase their pay bill by between 2% and 2.5% requires departments to demonstrate tangible progress on long-term priorities such as reducing equal pay risks, addressing pay anomalies or supporting a relocation strategy.

The spokesperson said: “Defra’s annual pay awards include a combination of both increases to base pay and one-off payments, and we have sought to optimise the 2.5%.

“We are committed to the ongoing review of our employee offer, including consideration of possible areas for pay flexibility.”

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