‘Don’t blame us for inflation’
PUBLIC sector workers from many walks of life – including firefighters, health workers, prison officers and civil servants – descended on Westminster at midday last Monday to protest at Government efforts to cap public sector pay rises at two per cent, which they say amounts to a pay cut given the rising cost of living.
The Speak Up for Public Services lobby united all 26 TUC trade unions involved in public sector work to call for fair pay for public service workers.
On the morning of the protest the TUC published the results of a survey it commissioned from YouGov, which shows public backing for an increase in public sector pay.
The research shows 90 per cent of those questioned support the incorporation of housing and energy bills into Government estimates of the cost of living.
Ministers base public sector wage negotiation on the consumer price index, which excludes housing.
Sixty-eight per cent of those surveyed said it was “unfair if public servants regularly get pay increases lower than those in public companies”.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “This poll shows very wide public support for the fair pay principles at the heart of union campaigning.”
The trade unionists told MPs that public service workers show their dedication and commitment by responding to national emergencies, tackling floods and their aftermath, preventing the spread of foot and mouth, tackling terrorism and crime and delivering health, education, justice and welfare services to the country.
Yet below-inflation pay rises means real terms pay cuts for public service workers – and they deserve better, Parliament was told in no uncertain terms.
The Government and employers must be in no doubt that they face a wave of strikes over the summer and autumn if there is no improved pay offer, warned union leaders, including Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.
Speaking to a packed hall before the Westminster lobby, Prentis paid tribute to public service workers – “the unsung heroes of our communities, the extraordinary people my union is proud to represent and who are now bearing the brunt of a real attack by this Government’s unfair and unjust pay policy.”
“If you really want to tackle inflation, tackle corporate greed,” he said, urging MPs to stand up for the public service workers who voted them in, to treat them with dignity and respect, so they don’t have to worry about how they are going to survive.
However a large tranche of Unison members – those employed by the NHS – last week voted to accept a very poor pay deal that will give them a total rise of eight per cent over three years – at a time when the cost of living is rising very fast.
An individual postal ballot of 452,000 members working in the NHS saw 64.91 per cent of those taking part voted to accept the three-year offer worth 8.1 per cent – and more to some members.
This result means that Unison and the Royal College of Nursing, the two largest NHS unions, representing the overwhelming majority of NHS staff, have now endorsed the multi-year agreement.
But Unison head of health Karen Jennings pointed out that the union had negotiated a “re-opener” clause “that we will not hesitate to trigger if inflation continues to rise”.
Meanwhile further education unions have rejected the employers’ latest pay proposals, which failed to put any new money on the table when negotiations reopened on Monday.
Unison and the other five further education unions are seeking six per cent or £1,500, whichever is the greater. Instead, the employers came back with a proposed pay rise of three per cent over 10 months (which is only worth 2.5 per cent over the year). Like their opening offer, it provided no underpinning for the lowest paid staff.
And at the Unite annual conference in Brighton, joint general secretary Derek Simpson condemned the Government’s two per cent public sector pay cap as “a disgrace”.
Unite has 250,000 members working in the public sector, supported Monday’s lobby of Parliament.
Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “Our members work hard to keep this country up and running. They should not be forced to take the blame for inflation. Unless the government want to be facing a recruitment and retention crisis within the public sector they need to treat these workers with the respect they deserve.”