‘Staff may walk away’: Environment Agency to impose ‘miserly’ pay deal

EXCLUSIVE: The Environment Agency (EA) has confirmed that it will impose a pay deal on staff which has been rejected by three unions, with one saying “staff may now simply walk away”.

Environment Agency to impose ‘miserly’ pay deal on staff. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

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

Prospect and Unite rejected the offer in August, and ENDS has been told by a source at Prospect that while the EA subsequently proposed a new offer, it was effectively the same as the previous one - so much so that it did not require a new ballot, and was once again rejected. The EA has confirmed that it will be imposing the pay deal. 

READ MORE: Why Environment Agency staff feel underpaid and undervalued

Unison’s national secretary for environment, Donna Rowe-Merriman, said that though negotiations have now concluded with the EA, “staff have made it clear their wages remain a huge concern” and warned that “this is no way to treat workers ​who are key to protecting communities. ​Staff may ​now simply walk away from this vital service”.  

"With inflation rising and wage levels increasing in many other sectors, a pay freeze is simply not good enough”, she continued. “Agency staff feel undervalued and are slipping further behind as the cost of living ​soars.”

Although Unison members voted against industrial action, ENDS understands this was only by a narrow margin.

The offer - which the unions describe as a £250 or 0% consolidated increase - is the implementation of a policy set down by the chancellor Rishi Sunak in March to pause pay increases for most staff. 

With inflation at 3.9%, the unions say that this amounts to a significant pay cut, with staff having already received a cumulative cut of over 20% since 2010.

Rehana Azam, national secretary at GMB, confirmed that along with Prospect and Unite, its members had also recently rejected “a poor offer”. She described it as “scant reward” for the work they do, “putting their lives on the line whenever rivers burst their banks”, and added that GMB had asked the regulator to think again.   

However, the EA has confirmed that it will be pressing ahead with the deal, with a spokesperson saying: “We have concluded our pay negotiations with the trade unions”. 

“Whilst we have not been able to reach an agreed settlement with them this year, we have had good and extensive discussions”, the spokesperson added, continuing to say “we have agreed to pay the award on the basis that this represents the best possible outcome which can be achieved within the constraints for public sector workers”. 

“Our aim throughout has been to do the best we can for all of our staff within that framework.”

The Treasury’s civil service pay remit guidance is causing tensions with staff across other parts of government too, with the civil service’s largest union having also recently rejected a pay deal from DEFRA.