PUBLIC sector unions have responded to the Government’s announcement of a two per cent cap – well below the rate of inflation – on public sector pay rises by calling for a united campaign against them and by demanding much higher pay rises.
Unison, GMB and TGWU-Unite have agreed to demand a six per cent pay rise – or 50 pence-an-hour, whichever is greatest – for the country’s million-plus local government workers.
This would bring the wages of the lowest paid workers up to £6.50-an-hour, which is still below the £6.75 that is estimated to be the minimum need to live on.
The unions say the demand is aimed to “catch up and match up” to recover losses from below-inflation pay rises over the last four years and to keep up with price inflation this year.
Unison’s national secretary for local government Heather Wakefield said: “Despite the headline figure, this is a modest claim.
“No-one could argue that an increase of 50 pence an hour fuels inflation. Over the past three years local government workers’ pay has increased by less than the rate of inflation, so we are starting from a low base. We need to make sure that they catch up with the rest of the public sector and that they are cushioned against inflation over the coming year.
She added: “The Government’s two per cent limit is just not on. It is half the rate of inflation and represents a real pay cut for loyal, hard-working public-sector workers, two-thirds of whom are women.
“They are struggling to make ends meet with the ever-increasing spiral of housing and fuel price rises.”
The 2004-7 pay agreements gave an increase of 11.4 per cent over three years, during which inflation rose by 12.5 per cent and average earnings by 13.4 per cent.
The 2007-2008 award was for 2.475 per cent and three per cent for the lowest paid – inflation was more than four per cent over that period.
The claim covers all grades of workers in local government, including refuse collection, school meals, social workers, administrators, cleaners, teaching assistants, parks and leisure workers and librarians.
Meanwhile the civil service union PCS has responded to the pay cap by calling for joint union action at a meeting of the TUC Public Services Liaison Group.
The call coincided with PCS members announcing that they would starting a work to rule in the Home Office next Monday over a below inflation three year pay offer which saw a large proportion of staff receiving a cost of living increase of just one per cent last year with a 0.5 per cent increase this year.
Elsewhere the union warned that members in the Department for Work and Pensions could take further strike action on 31st January should there be no progress through talks. The dispute over the imposition of a three year pay offer in the DWP has already seen a strongly supported two day strike in December.
Staff are angry over the below inflation three year deal which sees 40 per cent of staff receive no pay increase this year and people’s pay cut in real terms over the three years.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “If you look at the three-year deals in the DWP and the Home Office it is becoming increasingly clear that the Government is seeking to drive down pay in real terms with their proposals for three year pay deals across the public sector.
“The 2005 pensions campaign showed that when unions work together they are stronger and can win, which is why we are calling on public sector trade unions to campaign together and prepare for joint action to ensure civil and public servants don’t see their pay cut in real terms.
“With growing anger across the public sector, the government need to recognise that hard working civil and public servants will not tolerate below inflation pay or the false premise of being used as an anti-inflationary tool when it is clear that their wages aren’t fuelling inflation.”