UNISON and the joint trade unions have submitted a pay claim for 2023/24 seeking an increase of at least 13.2% for Environment Agency (EA) staff.
The unions’ fully-evidenced claim reflects how union members who remain in dispute over the 2022/23 pay award of 2% plus £345 have made it clear that the previous year’s uplift 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.
The lack of a significant uplift has created a ‘grade drift’ across all roles in comparison to pay rates a decade ago. This is continuing to grow.
The Cabinet Office published the 2023/24 civil service pay remit guidance earlier this year, which sets out the Treasury’s pay policy for the coming year and binds the hands of a number of government departments and agencies on pay.
It has instructed departments – including the EA – that they can make average pay awards of up to 4.5% this year plus 0.5% for the lowest paid.
UNISON national secretary for business, community and environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “Over 10 years of pay restraint and a insulting offer that our members rejected, we look to the EA 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.
“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.”
Hard-working members who protect our environment
Ms Rowe-Merriman continued: “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.
“The lowest paid, many of whom work in field operations, are yet again being hardest hit. The 2022/23 pay award demonstrated to be insufficient as the lowest paid staff EA staff salary was so low if fell below the legal minimum National Living Wage in April 2023.
“UNISON’s member survey showed quite clearly how dependent field ops workers rely on standby and overtime payments – and in some cases, in-work benefits and food banks. This reflects just how hard it is to maintain a reasonable standard of living on their basic agency pay.”
Average pay settlements across the economy have been running far ahead of those received by Environment Agency staff over recent years. This has increased the likelihood of recruitment and retention problems in the long term.
The response from UNISON’s annual pay survey indicates that, yet again, 30% of respondents are seriously considering leaving the agency in the next 12 months – often to water companies, other agencies or the Environment Agency’s supply chain. They state that salary is the main reason for doing so.
The joint trade unions, UNISON Prospect, GMB and Unite, have urged pay talks to commence as soon as possible.