Thousands of Environment Agency (EA) workers in England will stop out-of-hours attendance at incidents such as floods, water pollution, spills, waste fires and fly-tipping this weekend, in their ongoing pay dispute.
The industrial action, which starts at 9am tomorrow (Saturday), is set to continue for a month, with workers refusing to volunteer for on-call cover outside of contracted hours until 19 September.
Officers will step in where there is a threat to life, from incidents such as a major flood, as emergency life and limb cover has been agreed by the union.
This new wave of industrial action follows months of industrial action seeking an improved pay offer from the agency.
Members have been taking last resort industrial action since December 2022, after the organisation failed to offer a fair pay rise in the face of soaring household bills and inflation.
Staff have seen pay fall below inflation and incomes squeezed since 2011, meaning that staff effectively work one day a week for free.
The 2% plus £345 pay award for 2022/23 was so low that some colleagues saw their pay dip below the national living wage in April and had to receive a salary ‘top-up’ to comply with minimum wage legislation.
Staff are due to receive an unconsolidated cost of living payment of £1,500 this month, but this does not address the gulf between the 2022/23 pay award and the rising living costs members have experienced.
UNISON members working for the EA are seeing their roles being paid well below the market rate for their skills, and experienced colleagues continue to leave the agency in search of better pay for skilled work.
Donna Rowe-Merriman, UNISON national secretary for business, community and environment, said today: “Staff are proud to play a vital role in keeping communities safe, but feel constantly taken for granted and ignored by a government that has failed understand the unique, vital role Environment Agency staff have in delivering the environment we all want to feel safe in.
“The unconsolidated payment does not offer agency staff a real pay uplift in this cost of living crisis. They have struggled to get by for over a year on a measly pay offer, and see this as too little, too late. It does not address over a decade of pay austerity.
“The Environment Agency is underfunded, and its staff are undervalued and underpaid. UNISON has maintained that pay in the agency has fallen behind – and this has serious consequences as skilled staff leave in search of better pay.
“We call on the government to enable the Environment Agency to look at innovative ways to resolve the dispute quickly to prevent further disruption.”
Ms Rowe-Merriman said that the blame for any disruption in the coming month “must be laid solely at the Westminster government’s door. This action could be prevented if the agency had the freedom to negotiate with the trade unions.
“The action taken by members is a direct result of government pay policy that does not address the specific issues experienced by the Environment Agency.”
And she concluded: “The solution remains a wage rise that’s a better match for inflation and addresses the rising living costs.
“Otherwise, staff will continue to resign, leaving even fewer to be called upon in emergencies. The consequences for people living in areas prone to flooding are unthinkable.”
Read more about UNISON’s Environment Agency pay campaign