Shropshire Star

Environment Agency's Unison members suspend strike at 11th hour

Four days of planned strike action by Environment Agency workers has been called off at the 11th hour.

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Environment Agency staff out on a previous protest in February.

Unison members with the Environment Agency (EA) had been planning to walk out at 6am on Friday in an ongoing dispute over pay.

The workers had however pledged to step in as emergency 'life and limb' cover, where there was a threat to life or property from incidents.

But, Unison suspended the action just 14 hours before it was scheduled to start, on the "strict condition" that new talks over pay begin immediately.

The workers have been involved in a long-running dispute over pay, and walked out earlier this year.

They have also raised concerns about the EA's use of automated flood alerts during industrial action.

Unison head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said today: “Persistent low pay at the Environment Agency has resulted in chronic staffing shortages. Many employees have left for better-paid jobs and haven't been replaced.

"That's put the staff that remain in post under incredible pressure, never more so than in the last two weeks. Climate change is threatening ever more extreme weather, like the terrible storm much of the country is currently experiencing. But the agency simply doesn't have enough staff to go around.

“None of the staff wanted to take action this week. They are dedicated to their jobs and have been working around the clock to keep communities safe the best they can. But there's only so much they can do when there are so few of them. Poverty wages have caused the staffing crisis at the agency and the Government has sat by and let this happen.

"Ministers could have intervened ages ago and helped end the dispute. But they chose not to. At last, someone in government has seen sense and allowed the agency to do something managers there have wanted to do for months. That's use a budgetary staffing underspend to boost the wages of its long-suffering workforce.

“Hopefully, there's now a light at the end of the tunnel, for both Environment Agency workers and the communities so dependent upon their support.

"Talks over the coming days will decide what happens next. But there must be a long-term solution to improve pay across the agency or it will be unable to rise to the challenges posed by our increasingly worsening weather."

In a message to members, Mrs Rowe-Merriman said: "Unison’s Environment Agency Sector Committee met today and took the decision to suspend the November 3 to 6 action on the strict condition that pay talks commence immediately."

The decision will come as a relief to the EA, and many Shropshire residents, with the country and the county currently dealing with the impacts of Storm Ciaran.

Only last month EA workers were called into major action across Shropshire and the rest of the country amid the unprecedented rainfall from Storm Babet.

In an update for union members Ms Rowe-Merriman said that if a satisfactory agreement was not reached then the union would look to return to strike action.

She said: "It is worth mentioning that this decision to pause strike action was not taken lightly by your Sector Committee but provides an opportunity to commence talks with the employer on the basis that a settlement for 2023/2024 could be reached in a timely manner.

"However, should there not be a satisfactory agreement between both parties the union could reopen its mandate for industrial action."

The EA workers have been frustrated at last year's pay rise of just two per cent – when compared to inflation of 11 per cent.

So far this year there has been no increase in pay for the workers.