Environment Agency workers set for further strike action

Second strike in the Environment Agency’s history looms over pay.

Thousands of Environment Agency employees belonging to UNISON and Prospect are to take strike action next week in the growing dispute about pay.

Staff working in river inspection, flood forecasting, coastal risk management and pollution control will stage a 12-hour strike on Wednesday (8 February) starting at 7am.

In addition, for 12 hours either side of the walkout, Environment Agency employees will escalate their ongoing work to rule by withdrawing from incident response rotas.

This action short of a strike starts at 7pm on Tuesday, and kicks in again immediately at the end of the strike for another 12 hours, concluding at 7am on Thursday.

During these hours, there’ll be fewer experienced Environment Agency staff to provide cover if an incident occurs.

However, where there’s a genuine threat to life or property from something like a major flood, officers will step in as emergency ‘life and limb cover’ has been agreed with Agency managers.

Environment Agency staff belonging to UNISON took strike action earlier this month (18 January). Now their colleagues who are in Prospect will join them for the first joint strike.

Employees in both unions have been working to their contracts and refusing to volunteer for overtime for several weeks. And for short periods around the festive season they withdrew from incident rosters.

The unions are critical of the government for not doing anything to end the dispute. Both want ministers to grant senior managers at the Environment Agency permission to start proper pay negotiations.

The government’s failure to fund the Agency properly over many years, say the two unions, is why wages are too low and nowhere near the going rate for the skilled jobs these workers do.

Environment Agency employees got a 2% pay rise (plus £345) this year, but in 2021/22 most staff received nothing. Overall, wages there have fallen by more than 20% in real terms since 2010, say the unions.

That’s prompted many staff to depart for better paid jobs, leaving the Environment Agency struggling to cope. Severe staff shortages have placed intolerable pressure on the workforce. With too few employees, there’s an increasing risk of inadequate responses to major environmental incidents, UNISON and Prospect say.

UNISON head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “Communities across England are kept safe because of the tireless efforts of Environment Agency workers.

“Staff shortages and persistent underfunding have left the Agency in a difficult place, without the employees to meet the growing challenges posed by climate change.

“Not a single Environment Agency worker wants to take action but the government’s failure to find a solution has left them with no other option but to walk out again next month.

“It’s in everyone’s best interests that a solution is found quickly. The government must act now to get talks in motion that could prevent further escalation.”