Staff at the Environment Agency are to be balloted for strike action over pay after trade union Unison said that staff were “understandably angry” at the 1.3% pay deal imposed on staff for 2019-20.
The union, which represents around 10,000 people working in environmental and flood protection both on the ground and in incident rooms at the executive non-departmental public body, said staff had “unsurprisingly voted overwhelmingly (by a margin of 9 to 1) to reject the offer”.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis highlighted the 1.3% offer is below the current maximum average increase of 1.5% that departments can offer under the government’s most recent pay guidance, although this was for the 2018-19 financial year and could be updated soon.
The union said that the increase is below the rate given to other public sector workers doing similar work. For example, staff at the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency have accepted an offer of 3% for low-paid workers and 2% for higher earners.
“Despite this, the Environment Agency have refused to make a better offer – or even to reopen talks. Instead, they immediately moved to impose their offer on the very workers they rely on each day,” Prentis said.
“That’s why – starting today – we’re balloting our Environment Agency members on industrial action. Our members are dedicated and hard-working and devoted to their jobs, keeping us all safe. They feel – with much justification – that the agency has taken advantage of this dedication. It’s time for the agency’s independent board to step up, restart talks and make sure that this dedicated group of public servants get the settlement that their work merits.”
The ballot comes after Unison and other unions representing EA staff – Prospect, GMB and Unite – last year urged the EA’s board members to assert their independence and ignore the Treasury pay guidance. After pay restraint meant staff had effectively faced 20% real terms pay cut since 2010, the unions said last August that “salaries have fallen far below the level needed to attract, and there needs to be a substantial increase to recruit and retain effectively” at the agency, which is sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Responding to the announcement, an Environment Agency spokesperson said: “It is regrettable that Unison has decided to ballot their members with a view to taking industrial action. We are committed to giving our staff the best deal possible within the civil service pay guidance, as set by Treasury. This limited 2018 pay awards for civil and public servants to a maximum of 1.5% of the total paybill.
“We are making plans in the event of any industrial action to minimise disruption to the business of the Environment Agency and its customers.”