DEFRA workers on strike over “unfair” pay

Civil servants working at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA, began a further two-day strike on 20 September over claims that some staff are earning up to £4,500 less than colleagues for doing the same job.

Union members at government offices in York, Guildford and Worcester were the latest workers to walk out, as part of rolling strike action, which began in August, The strikers, represented by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) pledged before taking action that management of the foot-and-mouth crisis would not be affected by any industrial action.

The current situation at DEFRA, where workers from different government departments have been brought together (see related story), highlights an underlying problem for a government set on “joined-up” working. Throughout the 1990s, each government department has had individual responsibility for pay bargaining after national pay bargaining was devolved at the beginning of the decade. This has led to marked discrepancies in pay across the civil service which are now being exposed at DEFRA, where civil servants from the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) have been working alongside colleagues from the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, DETR, since DEFRA’s creation in June.

The PCS claims that former DETR workers are paid £3,000 to £6,000 more than those from MAFF, and that there is considerable sympathy across the civil service for taking action to gain parity. A large number of DEFRA staff are also reported to be on the national minimum wage which led to a request by the PCS for a 10% pay rise last January. It was offered 3.5% in June.

A spokesman from the PCS told edie that the government appears to be beginning to take on board the need to review the pay structure. While the primary aim of action at DEFRA is parity amongst workers, the PCS would also like to see a return to national pay bargaining. DEFRA confirmed that talks were underway between management and the unions.

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