Environment Agency staff stage first ever strike action in England over pay dispute

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Workers who protect communities from floods, water pollution, spills and waste fires will walk out today

Thousands of Environment Agency staff across England will walk out today as strike over pay for the first time.

The walkout will take place between 8am and 5pm on Wednesday (18 January). The action will see workers who maintain important safety structures such as the Thames Barrier, coastal sea defences and those protecting communities from floods, water pollution, spills, waste fires and fly-tipping walk out.

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The public services union says there are severe staffing shortages across the whole of the Environment Agency, fuelled by pay issues with Unison members in the EA "working one day in every five for nothing" due to government failures to pay workers wages in line with inflation.

Environment Agency staff check on the rising floodwaters in East Cowick, northern England on March 1, 2020 after Storm Jorge brought more rain and flooding to parts of the UKEnvironment Agency staff check on the rising floodwaters in East Cowick, northern England on March 1, 2020 after Storm Jorge brought more rain and flooding to parts of the UK
Environment Agency staff check on the rising floodwaters in East Cowick, northern England on March 1, 2020 after Storm Jorge brought more rain and flooding to parts of the UK | Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

It says salaries have fallen by more than 20% compared to inflation since 2010, and Environment Agency employees were only given a 2% pay rise for this financial year.

Unison says it has agreed on an emergency cover plan with senior managers at the Agency ensuring that officers will step in wherever there’s a threat to life or property today.

‘No other option’

Unison’s head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said Agency staff feel that they have been left with no other option than to strike.

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She said: “Communities up and down the country are at huge risk without the services Environment Agency employees provide. Staff are simply fed up with being taken for granted. This neglect cannot continue.

“Years without any wage increase or pitiful pay rises well below the cost of living, have taken a huge toll. Experienced workers are quitting in large numbers for better wages elsewhere and roles can’t be filled.

“The employer is sympathetic to the need for improved wages. But managers are powerless to act unless the Government improves funding and allows meaningful negotiations to take place.

“The Environment Secretary was missing in action last week while other ministers were talking to unions about disputes and pay.

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“Climate change is making extreme weather all the more common, so sitting back and allowing the situation to deteriorate, without the staff to tackle the growing problems isn’t an option.

“No one wants to strike, but Agency staff feel they’ve been left with no other option. The Government must get involved and find the funding so there can be positive moves on pay.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “As a public sector organisation, the Environment Agency remains bound by the pay policy of the government of the day.

“We have plans in place to minimise disruption to our essential work to protect the environment and respond to critical incidents.”

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