Weather forecasters set up picket lines at their places of work and a delegation marched on Westminster in a one-day strike over pay levels for specialist Met Office staff and more general concerns over the organisation’s gender pay gap.
Members of the Prospect trade union staged Wednesday’s day of action in protest at the imposition of the Treasury’s 1% cap on public sector pay. They argue that the Met Office, which is officially a government trading fund, should be exempt as it is self-financing. It is a view supported by the organisation's chief executive Rob Varley.
Prospect is also concerned about a 10.7% gender pay gap at the Met Office, shown by data for 2014-15, which contrasts with a national average gap of 9.4%, according to Office for National Statistics figures.
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Gordon Hutchinson, Prospect’s branch secretary for the Met Office, was unable to specify the exact number of Met Office staff who stayed away from work as part of the protest, but put the number in the “hundreds”. The Met Office “just over 300” staff had been involved.
Hutchinson told Civil Service World that pickets outside Met Office bases in the West Country had boasted the maximum number of representatives, while a delegation of 50 staff had travelled to London to march on Westminster and meet with MPs in whose constituencies the service has centres.
Hutchinson said the chief area of concern was in relation to specialist pay for staff affected by public sector cap, which the union says is currently pitched at 20-30% below private sector rates and a source of recruitment problems.
“All we’re asking is for the Met Office to be able to allocate what it needs to fund staff by industry standards,” he said. “We’re not asking for more money from the government.”
Chief executive Rob Varley expressed concerns about the constraints the 1% pay cap had on the Met Office’s ability to recruit and retain staff in a recent interview with Civil Service World.
“I'm simply asking for the freedom to spend the money I have in the way that I judge to be the most effective,” he said. “And given the choice I would spend it in such a way as to give those specialist people higher salaries in order to achieve more for the nation.”
Hutchinson said pay-cap discussions with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – which hosts the Met Office – took a confusing path.
“BIS will tell you this matter rests with the Met Office, the Met Office will say it is BIS, and BIS will point to the Treasury’s 1% rule,” he said.
Hutchinson said no further days of strike action were currently planned, but said Prospect had a ballot-box mandate for “a few more”.
“We’ve got to think about whether we’re having an effect on the ministers who are behind these decisions, then we’ll go back to our members,” he said.
A Met Office spokeswoman said the organisation had put “robust business continuity plans” in place ahead of the strike and that there had been no significant impact on services.
“Just over 300 staff out of 3,000 took part in the action yesterday,” she said. “A large proportion of these were staff based at our head office in Exeter.”