Defra faces industrial action over failure to close pay gap

Former
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) are voting on industrial
action today over the failure of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (Defra) to close pay disparities of up to £2,000.

After
the 2001 general election 600 staff from the former Department of Environment,
Transport and the Regions (DETR) joined 8,000 Maff staff to form Defra.

However,
the DETR staff within Defra were earning up to £4,000 per year more than their
Maff colleagues working at the same grade.

The
Maff staff, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), rejected
a pay offer and voted for industrial action, including one-day strikes and
rolling selective two-day strikes.

The
six month programme of industrial action was suspended in January 2002 after
Defra offered a 10 per cent  (or a
£2,000 minimum) pay rise and pledged to eliminate the remaining pay gaps by
securing money for future pay in 2002 Comprehensive Spending Review.

However,
Defra has yet to implement the programme and the disparities remain, despite
the Treasury review awarding Defra additional general funds of £45m a year for
2003 and 2004-2005, and £50m for 2005-2006.

Potentially,
5,000 former Maff employees still earn up to £2,000 less than colleagues at the
same grade and PCS is currently supporting some of them in equal pay industrial
tribunals.

PCS
senior negotiator Geoff Lewtas said: "PCS wants to work with Defra to
close the pay gap once and for all. For more than a year now thousands of staff
have been earning less than colleagues doing the same or equal work. This is
not the time for management to be sitting on the money the Treasury gave them
to sort out this unfairness.

"Staff
will not be compensated for the earnings they are losing while the department
drags its feet on this promise and PCS is prepared to take further industrial
action and tribunal cases until equal pay for equal work is secured."

By Quentin Reade

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