Over 730 Prospect members working in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, including vets and other animal health specialists, plant and fishery inspectors, scientists and other technical staff, will be asked to vote on strike action and action short of a strike after throwing out an offer which fails to provide any cost of living increase.
The move reflects the anger felt by staff at an offer worth only 2.9% overall, which provides no consolidated basic increase to the department’s pay bands and leaves over a third of specialist staff on the salary maximum with no pay increase at all. The award was due on July 1.
Prospect National Secretary Geraldine O’Connell said: "Our members feel this is a very sorry award for their dedication in a year when they have performed remarkably, often in emergency situations away from their homes and families. They have had to tackle the triple whammy of blue tongue, foot and mouth and avian flu, as well as the impact of the summer floods on top of their day-to-day workloads.
"Like most workers, they have seen the impact of inflation on their utility bills and mortgages but unlike most workers, no knock-on increase in their pay. Not only will this have a major impact on future salary increases but their pensions will suffer for ever."
The union argues that the refusal to revalorise pay bands is the consequence of the Treasury’s view that Defra is a ‘higher-paying department’, even though the government’s own benchmark survey by Hay consultants shows that Defra’s scales for specialists are below market rates.
The 738 members to be balloted include core Defra scientists, plus specialists in the Marine Fisheries Inspectorate, Plant Health and Seed Inspectorate, Veterinary and Animal Health, Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Pesticides Safety Directorate.
The ballot closes on December 14 with potential action starting in early January. However, members working in the National Disease Control Centre in Guildford and the Local Disease Control Centre in Bury St Edmonds, currently engaged in the two ongoing emergency outbreaks, will be given special dispensation from taking industrial action.