‘Undervalued and underappreciated’: EA pay offer rejected by two unions

Two trade unions representing Environment Agency (EA) staff have rejected a government pay offer described as “miserly”, it has emerged, meanwhile the regulator is continuing to meet union representatives.

Two trade unions representing Environment Agency staff have rejected a government pay offer. Photograph: Scarff/Getty Images Two trade unions representing Environment Agency staff have rejected a government pay offer. Photograph: Scarff/Getty Images

Last week, unions GMB, Unite, Unison, and Prospect wrote to the environment secretary, George Eustice, seeking an urgent meeting with DEFRA over what they describe as a “miserly” pay offer to employees that amounts to a real terms cut.

Today, Kevin Brandstatter, GMB national officer, told ENDS it had had no direct response from DEFRA following the joint letter and that “the pay offer has already been rejected by two unions”. A spokesperson added that GMB members are yet to vote on it, but the union is also recommending the offer be rejected.

Unite and Prospect have confirmed their members rejected the pay deal, with Unite saying that it would be pushing for further pay talks.

While Unison has not reported a vote yet, the union’s national secretary for environment and union joint secretary for the EA, Donna Rowe-Merriman, said: “Staff have voiced their dissatisfaction with the pay settlement loud and clear. It leaves them feeling undervalued and unappreciated for hugely important roles, attending major emergency incidents to protect communities at times of peril.”

She added that other public service workers have seen higher offers and EA staff should be acknowledged “for their vital role in protecting the environment”. 

In a statement from the EA, a spokesperson said that following the unions’ letter it had met with all four trade bodies yesterday and that it is bound by and remunerates its employees in line with standard public sector pay and pension policies.

However, despite this meeting yesterday, Brandstatter says he awaits DEFRA’s response “with bated breath”, and hopes that their member’s concerns will be listened to. 

According to the unions, EA staff have been offered a £250 or 0% consolidated increase, which they say amounts to a real terms pay cut in this year’s pay offer. 

The offer is the implementation of a policy set down by the chancellor Rishi Sunak in March to pause pay increases for most staff and award £250 to those paid less than £24,000.

The unions say that EA staff members have received a cumulative pay cut of over 20% since 2010.

In their letter, they call on DEFRA “to advocate for EA staff within government, and champion fair pay for these workers...because vital services are only resilient with a valued and fairly rewarded workforce”. 

“It will be a source of national embarrassment that with the UK government hosting world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow later this year – you are failing to invest in the very staff who will play a key role in delivering UK government policies to tackle climate change,” the letter reads.

While acknowledging that the pandemic had led to a loss of income for the EA, and that ultimately the pay offer is the result of pay policy and funding decisions taken by the central government, the unions argue that EA staff are comparable to NHS workers and those in local government, in so far as they “have continued working in roles protecting our environment and have put themselves in harm's way to fight Covid-19 and to keep essential services going”. 

“They went to work, so that others could stay home,” they wrote.

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