Strike by Environment Agency workers suspended

An Environment Agency van (Andrew Matthews/PA)
An Environment Agency van (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A planned four-day strike due to take place from Friday involving hundreds of Environment Agency workers has been suspended.

Unison, which represents the workers, said talks will be held to try to resolve a pay dispute.

The union said staff working to protect communities after Storm Babet and Storm Ciaran had been “reluctantly” due to walk out from 7am on Friday until 7am on Monday.

Flooded fields in Barnham, West Sussex
Flooded fields in Barnham, West Sussex, after Storm Ciaran (Joe Sene/PA)

Unison said the decision to call off the strike was taken after the Environment Agency confirmed ministers had given it permission to negotiate a new offer to give employees a “long-overdue” wage rise and help the agency with recruitment and retention.

Unison’s head of environment Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “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 them wanted to take action this week. They are dedicated to their jobs.

“Staff have been working round 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.”