Pay erosion is the common crisis across many public services that’s now resulting in waves of industrial action. The problem is rooted in the political decision, first taken by the 2010 coalition government, to cut funding to our public services.
Successive governments have refused to depart from that decision ever since.
For workers in the Environment Agency (EA), their pay has been devalued by 20% over that time. Mix that with the cost of living crisis, a pay freeze from July 2020 to November 2022, and it’s no wonder workers at the EA rejected the latest pay offer of around 2% + £345.
It’s well below inflation, so they’ve been left with no option but to take their first strike action over pay for the first time in the agency’s history.
EA workers are emergency workers too, keeping communities safe by responding to floods, pollution, waste fires, fly-tipping, and maintaining the Thames Barrier and sea defences, every day of the year.
But their low pay has pushed them to breaking point and they’ll walk out on Wednesday 18 January from 8am until 5pm.
UNISON and EA workers have agreed escalation plans and life and limb cover with the employer for the duration of the strike. But the action could have been avoided if the government had stepped in to unlock pay negotiations.
The government says it values the Environment Agency’s work, but it has put the agency – and the communities depending on it – at risk, by underfunding it for years. Expecting staff to accept declining living standards, and greater workloads as vacancies increase when their colleagues go to find better paid work elsewhere.
UNISON has called on the DEFRA Minister to step in to resolve the pay dispute. But until then, we’ll be supporting striking EA workers in their action, and I’ll be meeting workers who have taken the difficult decision to go on strike at the Thames Barrier this Wednesday.
The article Blog: Standing with our members at the Environment Agency first appeared on the UNISON National site.