The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 12th April 2019

Pay battles (round one)

by New Worker correspondent

EIGHTY-fiVE per cent of the Unison members at the Environment Agency have voted for industrial action after rejecting a below-inflation pay rise of 1.3 per cent imposed on staff in January.

The proposed action will include stopping unpaid overtime and work travel during personal time. Staff are angry that their pay falls short of increases given to other public sector workers, such as those doing the same job at the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency who have won three per cent for low-paid workers and two per cent for ‘higher’ earners.

The union claims that since 2010, Environment Agency workers are 20 per cent worse off as their wages have failed to keep pace with prices.

The union’s national officer for the agency Andrew Dobbie said: “These are staff whose vital work makes a difference to communities across England, protecting them from flooding and tackling pollution. They deserve to be treated like their colleagues in local government and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, who have been given proper increases.”

They are not the only government workers unhappy with their pay situation. Members of PCS working for Highways England are balloting for targeted industrial action. They have endured a three-year pay freeze and a seven-year one per cent pay cap that has not applied to senior management. The CEO Jim O’Sullivan now gets three times as much as his predecessor, raking in over £400,000 per year, and Chairman of the board Colin Matthews is paid £130,000 for attending 34 meetings a year at a rate of £3,823 per meeting.

Slightly further down the food chain, bus-loads of senior managers have been recruited at over £100,000 each. £5.4 million of extra funding has been found for them since 2013 when the privatisation of the old Highways Agency was first proposed.

The union says this pay policy runs contrary to promises made to staff. Before civil servants working for the agency were forcibly transferred from the civil service into Highways England, they were told by senior management that one of the benefits would be flexibility on pay, such as no longer being subject to public sector pay caps.

Flexibility works both ways. To make matters worse, this latest ‘offer’ means that these staff are removed from pay harmonisation with colleagues elsewhere in the Department for Transport (DfT) who are now receiving a 1.5 per cent pay rise, a breach of contract from the Modernised Employment Contract that DfT brought in in 2014.

Additionally, management propose a new pay and grading structure that would mean junior staff being paid even less than at present, with pay levels set by management’s tame pay consultants.

The working class can rejoice that others have been getting better pay rises however. Ian Conn head of Centrica, owner of British Gas, had a 44 per cent page rise from £1.7 million to bring it up to £2.4 million, which he surely deserved because he had had a “challenging year”, “reshaping the company against the challenge of a constantly shifting operating environment”. This involved making 4,000 job cuts, which he doubtless found a heart-breaking experience.