Seeds of dispute in Kew protest over pay

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

Something is stirring in the undergrowth at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, in west London. A revolt is afoot on the issue of pay among the hewers of wood and drawers of water - in fact they are highly qualified botanists and horticulturalists who tend more than 60,000 species of plants.

Normally a byword for placidity and dedication, the highly specialised gardeners are to abandon their 300 acres on Friday in protest at a basic pay offer of 0.9 per cent and the introduction of performance pay. It will be the first piece of industrial action at Kew since the gardens were established more than two centuries ago.

Staff are angry because the proposed increase is "paltry", that it is more than seven months overdue and that it involves an allegedly dubious calculation of how each individual is measuring up to management demands.

Paul Moloney, the regional organiser for the GMB general union, said staff were particularly concerned about the introduction of performance pay, adding: "How are they going to measure performance? The number of weeds they pull up? Or perhaps the growth rate of the plants for which my members are responsible. I have had more intelligent conversations with plants than with Kew management."

Mr Moloney said most of the gardeners earn between pounds 6,500 and pounds 11,000 a year and would receive an increase of around 2.5 per cent, of which only 0.9 per cent is guaranteed. "Most of them have been through further and higher education and see their jobs as a vocation. They don't want to jeopardise the health of the plants, but they have to live in the real world and they are taking industrial action as a last resort."

A management spokesman calculated that on average employees would get an increase of 6.5 per cent and that pay varied between pounds 8,831 and pounds 15,432.