Three trade unions have submitted a pay claim demanding a pay rise of at least 13.2% to “begin to address over a decade of pay erosion” for Environment Agency staff.
Unison, Prospect, GMB and Unite’s ask for 2023-24 – which follows repeated warnings that low pay is harming recruitment and retention at the agency, and several walkouts by staff – is markedly higher than the average 4.5% rise allotted to departments and agencies in Cabinet Office guidance this summer.
It would also far outstrip the below-inflation 2022-23 pay award of 2% plus a £345 performance-related bonus.
The unions are still in dispute over last year’s award, which Unison said in a statement “was not acceptable during the height of the cost of living crisis, with inflation running in double digits and with the wages of the lowest paid falling below the National Living Wage in April”.
Earlier this year, outgoing Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan warned that "some people can no longer afford to work for us" because pay had fallen so far relative to inflation.
“So people have left us over the last year to two, almost always saying ‘I really don’t want to leave but I can’t afford to work for you’. And I think that’s wrong," he told MPs on the Treasury committee in March.
He added: “People work for us because they want to create a better place. That’s fantastic, but sometimes they want to buy a house or they want to put food on the table, and they’re being forced to choose to go elsewhere."
Bevan had previously warned that the 2022-23 pay deal was “unjust, unwise, and unfair” amid the cost-of-living-crisis. He said his staff were "experiencing real hardship", with some using foodbanks.
Unison called this year's pay deal, which its members in the Environment Agency have rejected, “insulting”.
The union's national secretary for business, community and environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said the offer came after more than a decade of pay restraint, which Unison has said has caused “grade drift” when comparing pay rates to 10 years ago.
She urged the Environment Agency to “make amends and reverse the trend of below-inflation offers that make our hard working members worse off”.
“We urge the agency to come to the negotiating table with an offer that seeks to deliver a real uplift for members that reverses the trend of recent years,” she said.
“A 13.2% increase would meet current inflation rates, and at the same time, begin to address over a decade of pay erosion in the Environment Agency and make staff feel valued.”
She said the lowest-paid staff at the agency had to receive an additional uplift last year as the 2022-23 pay award left them earning below the national minimum wage.
“These are hard-working members who protect our environment and who protect our communities from flooding and pollution. They are feeling the impacts and are demanding a pay rise that doesn’t leave staff facing hardship,” she said.