17 August 2001

Civil servant strike will hit aid payouts

By Donald Macphail

CIVIL servants look set to press ahead with strike action which threaten to delay payments of farm subsidies and foot-and-mouth compensation.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union voted by a margin of two to one to strike on Monday (Aug 20). Further strikes are planned and staff have been asked not to work overtime or beyond the terms of their contracts.

Union members are furious that staff transferred to DEFRA from the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions earn on average £2000-£3000 more than employees who were taken on from the now-defunct MAFF. Pay-rise offers ranging from £600-£1000 have been rejected and the union is holding out for a basic increase of £2000 for all former MAFF staff.

Negotiations continued as farmers weekly went to press on Wednesday (Aug 15). But there were few signs of an agreement. Union representative Sheila Pickman said there would almost certainly be delays in processing foot-and-mouth compensation and farm subsidy claims.

She added: "Many of our members are from the farming community and the last thing they want is to inconvenience farmers, but regrettably there may be inevitable disruptions. Members are frustrated and fed up and I hope farmers will be as sympathetic to our needs as we have been to theirs over the years."

A DEFRA employee, who asked not to be named, estimated that staff worked on average an extra hour each day to ensure that work was completed. Refusing to do this while the dispute continued would lead to inevitable delays, he told farmers weekly. "People get resentful and think if someone is getting £3000 more then they should be doing more work," he said.

Among the schemes most likely to be affected are Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) payments, environmental scheme applications and foot-and-mouth compensation claims. A DEFRA spokeswoman said contingency plans were being drawn up but it was difficult to predict the effect of the action.

NFU meat hygiene adviser Tom Hinds said the union could not comment on a dispute among civil servants. Most foot-and-mouth compensation claims were processed by temporary staff in London and were unlikely to be badly affected, he claimed. But farmers were unlikely to look favourably on the strike.

In the ballot, 1185 union members voted for strike action with 553 against. Some 1375 voted for work to rule, with 364 against. Turnout was 54%. &#42