‘Seen sense’: Ministers grant Environment Agency permission to negotiate a new pay offer

Environment Agency (EA) staff have called off a four day strike at the last minute after ministers granted EA managers permission to use budgetary staffing underspend to negotiate a new pay offer.

Environment Agency staff put out sand bags. Source - GettyImages

EA staff belonging to UNISON working to protect communities from the aftermath of Storm Babet and Storm Ciarán were due to stage a four day strike starting at 7am today. 

This was set to be the latest round of industrial action in a long-running dispute over pay. EA staff belonging to UNISON have been taking some form of industrial action since last December and as well as working to rule, staff have walked out on four previous occasions so far this year.  

READ MORE: ‘Death by a thousand cuts’: Three EA workers lift the curtain on their decision to strike

However, this morning UNSION announced that the latest strike action has been suspended after the EA confirmed that ministers have given it permission to negotiate a new offer for employees.

EA staff were given a pay increase of 2% plus £345 last autumn, however by allowing EA managers to make use of a budgetary underspend, the union said the government is “effectively giving it permission to breach the Cabinet Office pay remit”. 

UNISON head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “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 using 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.”

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “We are pleased that we are able to move into formal negotiations with our unions following the approval of the Environment Agency’s pay proposal. We welcome the decision by UNISON to call off their planned industrial action this weekend as a result of this progress.”