Thousands of Environment Agency employees belonging to UNISON and Prospect are to take strike action next week in the growing dispute about pay, say the unions today (Tuesday).
Staff working in river inspection, flood forecasting, coastal risk management and pollution control will stage a 12-hour strike on Wednesday (8 February) starting at 7am.
In addition, for 12 hours either side of the walkout, Environment Agency employees will escalate their ongoing work to rule by withdrawing from incident response rotas, say the unions.
This action short of a strike starts at 7pm on Tuesday, and kicks in again immediately at the end of the strike for another 12 hours, concluding at 7am on Thursday.
During these hours, there’ll be fewer experienced Environment Agency staff to provide cover if an incident occurs, say the unions.
However, where there’s a genuine threat to life or property from something like a major flood, officers will step in as emergency ‘life and limb cover’ has been agreed with Agency managers.
Environment Agency staff belonging to UNISON took strike action earlier this month (18 January). Now their colleagues who are in Prospect will join them for the first joint strike.
Employees in both unions have been working to their contracts and refusing to volunteer for overtime for several weeks. And for short periods around the festive season they withdrew from incident rosters.
The unions are critical of the government for not doing anything to end the dispute. Both want ministers to grant senior managers at the Environment Agency permission to start proper pay negotiations.
The government’s failure to fund the Agency properly over many years, say the two unions, is why wages are too low and nowhere near the going rate for the skilled jobs these workers do.
Environment Agency employees got a 2% pay rise (plus £345) this year, but in 2021/22 most staff received nothing. Overall, wages there have fallen by more than 20% in real terms since 2010, say the unions.
That’s prompted many staff to depart for better paid jobs, leaving the Environment Agency struggling to cope. Severe staff shortages have placed intolerable pressure on the workforce. With too few employees, there’s an increasing risk of inadequate responses to major environmental incidents, UNISON and Prospect say.
UNISON head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “Communities across England are kept safe because of the tireless efforts of Environment Agency workers.
“Staff shortages and persistent underfunding have left the Agency in a difficult place, without the employees to meet the growing challenges posed by climate change.
“Not a single Environment Agency worker wants to take action but the government’s failure to find a solution has left them with no other option but to walk out again next month.
“It’s in everyone’s best interests that a solution is found quickly. The government must act now to get talks in motion that could prevent further escalation.”
Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Low pay, under-resourcing and under-staffing mean it’s almost impossible for Environment Agency staff to properly inspect, regulate and protect the natural environment.
“This has resulted in problems including sewage discharge and pollution of waterways, which will only get worse unless action is taken.
“Staff love their jobs, but simply cannot continue to do them when their pay is decreasing in real terms every single year. The only option left is industrial action.
“To protect the environment, regulators must be properly resourced. That means fair pay and recruiting and retaining a skilled, experienced workforce. If that doesn’t happen, the regulator can’t do its job, and everybody suffers.”
Notes to editors:
– UNISON and Prospect have balloted thousands of staff at the Environment Agency. UNISON members took strike action on 18 January, having already taken action short of strike action in December. Prospect has been taking action short of a strike since 19 December 2022.
– Emergency cover plans have been agreed with senior managers at the Agency ensuring officers will step in wherever there’s a threat to life or property.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.
– Prospect represents 150,000 members in the public and private sectors. Its members work as curators, educators, engineers, scientists, managers and specialists in areas as diverse as agriculture, regulation, communications, defence, entertainment, energy, environment, heritage, industry, media and transport.