Defra staff seek four-day week pilot with same pay

Hundreds of Defra staff members have signed a petition urging their bosses to trial a four-day working week with the same pay, Farmers Weekly understands.

The petition has been signed by more than 1,300 staff and it was submitted on 7 December calling for a pilot scheme across more than 21,000 employees at Defra and its arm-length bodies.

The campaign seeks to become the first UK central government department to trial a four-day working week.

See also: Natural England workers strike over pay and conditions

A source close to the request said: “Defra staff have suffered pay cuts below inflation since 2010 and this may be a way of Defra showing that it properly supports its staff.” 

Headed up by employees belonging to the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, the proposal includes staff at the Rural Payments Agency, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Natural England, and the Forestry Commission.

However, it does not include the Environment Agency, which leads on flooding policy in England, because the PCS does not have recognition there.

The Environment Agency has struggled to retain and recruit staff this year and its Prospect and Unite union members have staged a number of strikes this year over pay and conditions.

Defra PCS union members are proposing a 20% reduction in working hours with no loss of wages.

Their petition has been backed by the 4 Day Week Campaign, which argues that a four-day working week delivers benefits to worker wellbeing and productivity.

The move comes after an interim survey of PCS members across all government departments shows 40% were considering quitting if they were forced to return to working in the office three days a week.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Evidence suggests a four-day week would lead to a better work-life balance for staff and could improve productivity for the employer.  

“Previous trials have led to a reduction in sick leave and improvements to staff retention and satisfaction.

“If Defra wants to seriously address the issues of employee burnout, stress and poor wellbeing, they will listen to our members and implement this pilot.” 

Productivity and wellbeing benefits

4 Day Week Campaign director Joe Ryle added: “A four-day working week with no loss of pay improves both productivity and the wellbeing of workers. 

“It’s been tested time and time again with great success in the private sector so it’s only right and fair to see if these benefits can apply to public sector workers. 

“We’re long overdue a reduction in working hours and we’re proud to be supporting PCS members in their campaign.” 

Defra provides 25 days’ annual leave to new starters, rising by an additional day per year of service to 30 days annual leave, in addition to the eight days’ leave for public holidays and one-day-privilege leave for civil servants.

The department says it supports flexible working arrangements and has flexi-time policies.

A spokesperson acknowledged the petition has been submitted, but said: “There are no plans for this. Value-for-money should be provided to the taxpayer.”

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