The four-day strike that had been due to take place from Friday 3 November involving hundreds of Environment Agency workers represented by UNISON has been suspended to allow pay talks to happen.
Staff working to protect communities from the aftermath of Storm Babet and the onslaught of Storm Ciarán were reluctantly due to walk out from 7am on Friday until 7am on Monday as part of their long-standing dispute over pay, says UNISON.
The decision to call off the strike was taken after the Environment Agency confirmed ministers had given it permission to negotiate a new offer* to give employees a long-overdue wage rise and help the agency with recruitment and retention.
UNISON head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “Persistent low pay at the Environment Agency has resulted in chronic staffing shortages. Many employees have left for better-paid jobs and haven’t been replaced.
“That’s put the staff that remain in post under incredible pressure, never more so than in the last two weeks. Climate change is threatening ever more extreme weather, like the terrible storm much of the country is currently experiencing. But the agency simply doesn’t have enough staff to go around.
“None of them wanted to take action this week. They are dedicated to their jobs.
“Staff have been working round the clock to keep communities safe the best they can, but there’s only so much they can do when there are so few of them. Poverty wages have caused the staffing crisis at the agency and the government has sat by and let this happen.
“Ministers could have intervened ages ago and helped end the dispute. But they chose not to. At last, someone in government has seen sense and allowed the agency to do something managers there have wanted to do for months. That’s use a budgetary staffing underspend to boost the wages of its long-suffering workforce.
“Hopefully, there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel, for both Environment Agency workers and the communities so dependent upon their support.
“Talks over the coming days will decide what happens next. But there must be a long-term solution to improve pay across the agency or it will be unable to rise to the challenges posed by our increasingly worsening weather.”
Notes to editors:
*– By allowing Environment Agency managers to make use of a budgetary underspend, the government is effectively giving it permission to breach the Cabinet Office pay remit. This guidance provides a framework within which all departments will set pay for 2023/24 and for departmental pay strategies and pay reporting.
– Environment Agency staff were given a pay increase of 2% plus £345 last autumn.
– The lowest paid workers at the Environment Agency receive the national minimum wage of £10.42 an hour.
– Environment Agency staff belonging to UNISON have been taking some form of industrial action since last December. As well as working to rule, staff have walked out on four previous occasions – 18 January, 7-8 February, 31 March-3 April, and 14-17 April. In addition, they have withdrawn from incident response rosters. Agency employees belonging to Prospect have also been taking action.
– 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.