Met Office staff to go on strike amid fears pay restraint hitting specialist recruitment

Prospect members at the Met Office to stage latest walk-out over pay

By Matt Foster

19 Feb 2016

Forecasters working at the Met Office are to go on strike next week, urging the government to give the UK's weather agency the "freedom to manage its own paybill".

Like the rest of the public sector, the Met Office is subject to a Treasury-imposed 1% cap on annual pay rises until at least the end of the decade. 

Although government bodies are granted some freedom to address recruitment and retention problems by re-allocating funds within their overall paybill, union Prospect – whose Met Office members will walk out on February 24 – says the organisation is facing a loss of expertise because it is unable to match pay rates in the private sector.

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“Prospect members do not take this action lightly," said Prospect negotiator Helen Stevens. "They are loyal and committed to their work but they believe that the current pay policy is damaging the Met Office and its ability to serve its customers."

The union is also concerned about the gender pay gap at the Met Office, pointing out that department's own equal pay audit for 2014-15 showed a 10.7% gap between what male and female staff earned. The average national gap is 9.4%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

“The Met Office modernised its pay system in 2009, but the system has never been allowed to work," Stevens said. "The impact is that women are being discriminated against and the Met Office is unable to recruit specialist staff.

"The Met Office needs these people to maintain the public weather service and realise the considerable benefits of the investment in the Met Office’s new super computer.

"The pay problems at the Met Office would not cost the taxpayer a penny extra to resolve.  Prospect is simply calling on the government to give the Met Office the freedom to manage its own paybill."

The action follows the first-ever walkout by Met Office staff last February, with sites in Exeter, Aberdeen and Edinburgh affected during the 2015 action. And it comes after the Met Office's chief executive, Rob Varley, told CSW he had "argued passionately" for the organisation to be given more control over its paybill "to enable us to maximise our value to the nation".

He said: "I completely understand the concerns within government about controlling public spending. But from my own point of view, this is just becoming more and more of a serious problem, and ultimately we risk our ability to deliver what we deliver. We are world-leading. And we deliver fantastic value. 

"One of the reasons that we do is that the people who work for us work for less money than they would otherwise have to be paid, and of course the public get the benefit of that cheaply. But it won't continue. If we carry on with the differential getting bigger and bigger, we'll get to the point where it simply can’t keep people, and then the quality will begin to drift."

A spokesperson for the  Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which oversees the Met Office, said public sector pay was "comparable to the private sector" once pension contributions had been taken into account.

Meanwhile, a Met Office spokesperson said that while some disruption to its services was possible, the agency was "working to ensure those which are critical for safety of life and property are maintained".


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