Environment Agency staff follow those at Defra in backing strike action

A ballot by the UNISON union at the UK’s Environment Agency (EA) has revealed overwhelming support for strike action. If workers do choose to strike, this will be a first in the organisation’s 26-year history.

Environment Agency staff follow those at Defra in backing strike action

Stock image, EA. Agency staff are concerned that pay rises have been outpaced by skyrocketing inflation

Across England, UNISON balloted around 2,800 staff including river inspectors, sewage plant attendants, risk management officers and flood forecasting officers. 92% agreed that staff should take some form of action to protest low wages, with 73% agreeing that a strike would be an appropriate course of action.

UNISON claims that most EA staff have been offered a 2% pay rise this year plus a £345 one-off payment to help pay bills amid the cost-of-living crisis. It also alleges that many staff have not had a real-terms pay increase for more than two years. It has been revealed this week that inflation in the UK has now exceeded 11%.

edie reached out for a response to these claims. An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “Our staff work tirelessly to protect and enhance the environment. As a public sector organisation, the EA is bound by the pay policy of the government of the day.

“Decisions on industrial action are for unions and their members. We are making plans to minimise any disruption to our work to protect the environment, people and wildlife from harm should industrial action take place.”

“EA workers take great pride in the support they give to communities and businesses across England, but they’ve been taken for granted for long enough and feel it’s now time to take a stand,” said UNISON’s head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman.

“Persistent government cuts to the Agency’s funding have squeezed budgets and pay rates, prompting experienced staff to up sticks and head elsewhere. Now talk of difficult decisions and caps on public sector wages next year could prove the final straw.

“Climate change means our weather is becoming more severe. It’s more important now than ever that the government shows it understands the vital work of the Agency and provides the means for an inflation-proofed pay rise for this essential group of workers.“

Unions GMB, Prospect and Unite still need to ballot the EA workers who are their members before further action plans are decided upon.

The Guardian reported in 2021 that, between 2014 and 2021, the EA’s budget from the central UK Government was cut by around two-thirds.

Civil servant strikes

The news from UNISON comes just days after the PCS union revealed the results of its national ballot of civil servants at UK Government departments and arms-length bodies. More than 100,000 people voted and 8% voted in favour of strike action, with the threshold for strike action being surpassed at 126 bodies.

Among the bodies within the UK’s green economy backing strike action are:

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) (92% in favour)
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) (91% in favour)
  • Department for Transport (87% in favour)
  • Forestry and Land Scotland (82% in favour)
  • Forestry Commission England (80% in favour)
  • Historic Environment Scotland (93% in favour)
  • Crown Estate Scotland (80% in favour)
  • Marine Management Organisation (91% in favour)
  • Natural England (86% in favour)
  • Natural Resources Wales (74% in favour)
  • Ofgem (95% in favour)
  • Ofwat (79% in favour)
  • NatureScot (86% in favour)

“We are now in a position to call significant industrial action in support of our claim for a 10% pay rise, pensions justice, job security and and no cuts to redundancy terms,” PCS said in a statement. A letter has been sent to the Cabinet Office in a bid to kick-start “meaningful negotiations” and more information is due out this Friday (18 November)

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