Environment Agency staff start industrial action over pay, says UNISON

Wages there have been held down for years.

Thousands of Environment Agency workers in England will stop attending incidents such as floods, water pollution, spills, waste fires and fly-tipping in December and over Christmas, as they begin industrial action from today (Monday), says UNISON.

From this morning, staff will start a work to rule for an indefinite period. This means they will do only their contracted hours, taking all scheduled breaks and rest in full between shifts, and will not accept any unpaid work at this busy time of year for the Agency.

In addition, employees will refuse to volunteer for ‘on call’ cover for several days. The Environment Agency is dependent on the goodwill of workers to step forward to handle unexpected incidents, says UNISON. This is especially crucial during the winter months, when heavy rainfall and colder temperatures tend to sweep the country.

Employees will not agree to provide this cover today, or on Wednesday or Friday of this week. This will also be the case next Tuesday and Thursday (20 and 22 December).

Nor will staff agree to volunteer to attend incidents for two 48-hour periods, the first beginning at 9am on Christmas Eve and continuing until 9am on Boxing Day, and the second from 9am on New Year’s Eve, ending on 2 January at 9am.

High vacancy levels at the Agency are already piling extra pressure on the staff who deliver vital services to protect communities and the environment from floods and pollution incidents, says the union.

Employees have been driven to action as a last resort after the organisation failed to offer a fair pay rise in the face of soaring household bills and inflation, says UNISON.

Wages have fallen behind rising costs for many years and this year workers were offered just a 2% rise – less than a fifth of the lowest measure of inflation currently – plus a £345 payment.

Where there is a threat to life from incidents such as a major flood, officers will step in as emergency ‘life and limb cover’ has been agreed, says UNISON.

UNISON head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “Staff are proud to play a vital role in keeping communities safe, but feel constantly taken for granted by a government that has persistently failed to invest in the Environment Agency.

“Wages there have been held down for years, prompting many experienced workers to quit for better paid work elsewhere. But as more leave, the pressures increase on those staff left behind. And so, it goes on.

“Severe weather and concerns about pollution mean the Agency’s work is more important now than ever. But the blame for any disruption must be laid solely at the government’s door.

“The solution is a wage rise that’s a better match for inflation. Otherwise, staff will continue to resign, leaving even fewer that can be called upon in emergencies. The consequences for people living in areas prone to flooding are unthinkable.”

Notes to editors:
– 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.

Media contact:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk