Government scientists stage walkout over pay

PCS and Prospect members at the Natural Environment Research Council take half-day action over 1% cap and progression pay move

By matt.foster

15 Sep 2015

Government scientists across the UK have gone on strike in a dispute over pay.

Union members at research facilities run by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – a non-departmental body supported with funds from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – staged a half-day walkout on Monday.

NERC is one of the seven research councils tasked with investing public money in research, and it focuses on areas including atmospheric, biological and aquatic science. Its research centres include the British Antarctic Survey, the National Oceanography Centre, and the British Geological Survey.

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Although the NERC's funding decisions are independent of government and its staff are not civil servants, it was officially reclassified as part of the public sector in 2010, meaning it has been subject to the same pay freeze and subsequent 1% cap on payrises as other officials.

Scientists and researchers who are members of the Prospect and Public and Commercial Services (PCS) unions took part in the action from mid-day on Monday, in protest at a decision by the NERC to scrap automatic progression payrises and introduce performance-related pay.

Prospect's national secretary Tony Bell said the organisation's 750 affected members had not taken the decision to strike "lightly".

"Members recognise that NERC is subject to government public sector pay policy, but they are incensed by the council's approach which aims to remove pay progression, without adequate consultation or compensation," he said.

Andy Parsons, the PCS representative at the research council, said his union's members were "furious at the pay award imposed by NERC" and called on the council to recognise the "commitment, skills and contribution" of its staff.

A spokesperson for the NERC told Civil Service World that the council would continue to engage with unions.

"The Natural Environment Research Council was unable to reach agreement with Prospect and PCS trade unions on its 2014 pay offer," a spokesperson said.

"However, following a staff options exercise, 98% of staff agreed to the 2014 pay award, which was implemented at the end of June 2015. Prospect and PCS balloted their members and advised us that they voted to take strike action. NERC will continue to hold dialogue with the relevant trade unions about the pay position for 2015 and beyond through the usual channels."

Seventeen sites were affected by yesterday's action, according to Prospect. PCS promised "further action" in the autumn if its concerns were not addressed, while Prospect said its NERC representatives would meet on Thursday to discuss next steps.

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