17 August 2001
Defra strikers ask for understanding

By Donald MacPhail

CIVIL service union leaders have asked farmers to show understanding for a strike which will delay foot-and-mouth compensation and subsidy payments.

Former Ministry of Agriculture employees working for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will strike on Monday (20 August).

The one-day stoppage came after ex-MAFF members of the Public and Commercial Services Union in England voted for industrial action.

Further strikes are planned and the 3500 staff have been asked not to work overtime or beyond the terms of their contracts while the dispute continues.

Former MAFF members are furious that staff transferred to DEFRA from the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions earn 2000-3000 more.

Union representative Sheila Pickman said there would almost certainly be delays in processing compensation and farm subsidy claims.

“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,” she added.

On Friday (17 August) afternoon she told FWi that no new management offer had been made and the strike seemed certain to proceed.

“Weve been getting good feedback from members throughout the regions and expect a good turnout,” she added.

Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) payments, environmental scheme applications and foot-and-mouth compensation are most likely to be affected.

One 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 considerable delays, he told FWi.

The pay disparity caused problems in the workplace he said.

“People get resentful and think if someone is getting 3000 more then they should be doing more work.”

A DEFRA spokeswoman said contingency plans were being drawn up, but it was difficult to predict the effect of the action. A new offer was “unlikely”.

National Farmers Union meat hygiene adviser Tom Hind said the union could not comment on a dispute among civil servants.

But as farmers are unable to go on strike they were unlikely to look favourably on the action, he added.

Most foot-and-mouth compensation claims were processed by temporary staff in London and were unlikely to be badly affected, he claimed.

Pay rise offers ranging from 1350-1600 have been rejected and the union is holding out for a basic increase of 10% or 2000 for all former MAFF staff.

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