Environment Agency staff begin 36 hours of action over pay, says UNISON

Thousands of Environment Agency employees begin to ramp up their dispute over pay today (Tuesday) as they begin a further period of industrial action, including a 12-hour strike, says UNISON.

The union is urging the government to stop ignoring the Environment Agency’s “invisible workforce” and begin talks to increase the woeful wages of staff.

Poor pay is forcing increasing numbers to leave essential roles controlling pollution and protecting communities from weather disasters, says UNISON.

From 7pm today (Tuesday), Environment Agency workers belonging to UNISON will start a 12-hour period of action short of strike, which will see key staff withdraw from emergency incident rotas. This is in addition to an ongoing work-to-rule where staff, who also work in river inspection, flood forecasting, and coastal risk management do only their contracted hours.

At 7am tomorrow (Wednesday), employees who are UNISON members begin a 12-hour strike, followed immediately by a further period of action short of strike continuing until 7am on Thursday. Workers represented by the Prospect union will also be taking the same action.

Disruption could be paused in an instant if the government stepped in to enable talks to begin and put an improved wage offer on the table, says UNISON.

A recent survey by UNISON found more than a quarter (26%) of Environment Agency staff are considering leaving in the coming year. Of these, more than half (54%) said their main reason for wanting to quit was inadequate pay.

Without the staff, these vital services are at risk, says the union. The government’s failure to fund the Agency properly over many years means staff wages are nowhere near the going rate for the skilled jobs these workers do.

This year Environment Agency employees got a 2% pay rise (plus £345), but in 2021/22 most staff received nothing. Since 2010, wages there have fallen by more than 20% when the cost of inflation is taken into account, says UNISON.

The union wants ministers to grant senior managers at the Environment Agency permission to start proper pay negotiations. That would help stop the exodus of staff, which in turn creates intolerable pressure for those left.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Ministers are simply ignoring this invisible workforce.

“The public might not see what they do, but day in day out, they work tirelessly behind the scenes keeping communities safe from the ravages of the weather, rogue companies polluting rivers and criminals blighting the landscape with illegal fly-tipping.

“Despite homes and communities being regularly battered by the weather at this time of year, and with pollution spills on the rise, the government hasn’t grasped what’s at stake.

“Decent pay is a key factor in protecting the environment and keeping everyone safe. But those services can’t be provided if there’s no one to run them.

“Ministers can end this disruption right away, begin to rebuild services and give communities the peace of mind they crave. All the government needs to do is get talks in motion and increase pay.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON balloted 2,800 staff at the Environment Agency. UNISON members took strike action on 18 January, having already taken action short of strike action in December..
– Emergency cover plans have been agreed with senior managers at the Agency ensuring officers will step in wherever there’s a threat to life or property.
– A total of 642 Environment Agency workers took part in UNISON’s survey from 21 December 2022 to 31 January 2023.
– Tom, an Environment Agency worker in the South East, said: “After a decade of pay cuts, this year’s award of just 2% is insulting. We feel undervalued and disrespected. Because of the low pay means there are real problems recruiting staff. That means we’re expected to cover vacant posts and do more for less money. And this has been happening for years. The cost of my mortgage has gone up by hundreds of pounds a month, on top of skyrocketing fuel bills and food costs. I’m struggling to make ends meet. The Environment Agency needs more money from government and staff need a pay rise that properly values the important work we do keeping homes and communities safe.”
– 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.
– Picket lines will be in place at the following locations in Hampshire, Sussex and Kent tomorrow (Wednesday):

Romsey (08.00 to 12.00) Environment Agency Romsey District Offfice, Station Road, Romsey, Hampshire SO51 7LP
Worthing (08.00 to 12.00) Guildbourne House, Chatsworth Road, Worthing, West Sussex,  BN11 1LD
Canterbury (08.00 to 12.00) Rivers House, Sturry Road, Canterbury, Kent  CT2 07LP