Environment Agency reps shines at One Weekend

We speak to Chris Swain about becoming UNISON Eastern’s Activist of the Year

Chris Swain on the left receives his award from branch comms officer James Chrisp

Few would envy our UNISON Eastern One Weekend judges the task of picking the Activist of the Year.

As the eventual winner himself put it: “There are so many committed and effective reps across the region who went ‘all-in’ this year, the judges must have had a very busy space.”

Despite the breadth of talent, it’s not hard to see why Environment Agency Anglia branch secretary Chris Swain came out on top.

He’s led his branch through its first ever pay strike, marshalling forces in a diverse and disparate organisation with members and reps working across the entire region and beyond.

Despite suffering from health issues, he’s worked day and night, evening and weekend to deliver the action, getting stuck in with all aspects of the strike while still supporting individual members through some complex cases.

Chris and a large group of people holding placards and flags on an Environment Agency picket line

Chris on an Environment Agency picket line

In announcing the winner, regional secretary Tim Roberts described Chris as “very humble, friendly, approachable, well-respected by the branch.” This humility shines through when asked about winning.

“The only way the award makes sense to me is that all I have fronted is backed and delivered by a team of hugely talented and committed activists,” he says. “I was only able to take on what I did this year by knowing that we have this team and the support and dedication of UNISON’s national and regional officers.”

Chris wanted to become a rep to make his workplace “fairer happier and safer” so that people can thrive at work – in the Environment Agency that means better protection for the planet as well.

That’s been a theme of UNISON’s dispute with the Environment Agency. Funding has plummeted and the value of pay has fallen by more than 20% in the last decade, leading workers to leave the agency in droves, leaving it less and less able to protect our communities (and wider economy) from floods, droughts, pollution and other environmental problems.

UNISON members in the agency have just delivered another strike mandate, meaning more industrial action is on the cards. We can only hope the government will finally start to take protecting the planet seriously and open up meaningful negotiations.

Chris is hopeful. “The Environment Agency and Defra must do what is obviously the right thing: deliver a fair and cost-effective pay and reward to the people who deliver the work.

“Our members have balloted with their resolve to take the next steps, and I think this recognition at the One Weekend is a huge boost to all our reps and members that we have the ingredients to escalate this campaign and get the best outcome possible.”

All the winners