The economy might be growing again, but across the UK real wages are still falling. In the public sector workers across local government, the NHS and the civil service don’t feel they’re about to share in the recovery any time soon, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady told delegates attending Unite’s annual conference in Liverpool yesterday (Wednesday).
“Whether they work in town halls, hospitals or central government departments, public servants everywhere are facing a huge squeeze on their incomes. Pay restraint was a bitter pill to swallow during the dark days of recession, but now the economy looks to be back on its feet, public sector workers are understandably angry that their pay continues to be held down.
“Pay rises way below the cost of living, coming hard on the heels of several years of pay freezes, have left family budgets stretched to the limit.
“Now, as economic pressures seem to be lifting, the government is still insisting on keeping public sector workers’ pay down. The recovery remains some way off for our hard-working, dedicated midwives, nurses, teachers, dinner ladies and other public servants. For them several years more of financial worry and frugal living lie ahead.
“Only yesterday, radiographers, hospital porters and cleaners, physiotherapists and other NHS staff joined with their colleagues from hospitals and clinics across England for a lobby in Westminster to remind MPs of the need for fair pay for all health service staff.
“Across the public sector, the impact of austerity continues to make its mark on the public sector workforce. They might be paying the price in their purses and pockets now, but as spending cuts and job losses continue to take their toll, before long it will be our public services and everyone who uses them who will pay the price.
“Plummeting morale will make it harder for the public sector to hold on to and recruit highly skilled staff. And if the public sector becomes a place that no-one wants to work, then we all lose out.
“The anger about unfair pay across the public sector will be on display for everyone to see next Thursday when local government workers across the country hold a one-day strike.
“Many hard-pressed town hall workers will find it hard to lose a day’s pay next week, but they feel that as neither ministers nor the local government employers are listening, they have no other choice.
“Spending cuts and large-scale redundancies have hit libraries, leisure centres and nurseries hard in communities right across Britain. The workers left holding the fort and trying to deliver those services – despite the loss of many of their colleagues – have pretty much had enough.
“Their pay packets have been slashed, and half a million local government workers still earn less than the living wage.
“Refuse collectors, lollipop men and women, parks attendants, skilled technicians – all feel treated with contempt and taken for granted.
“Local authorities say they have no money to pay them more because the Chancellor has cut council budgets to the bone. The government managed to find the cash to give the wealthy a nice tax cut, yet professes not to have the means to give hard-working public servants the pay rise they deserve.
“In towns and cities across England and Wales next Thursday there will be rallies taking place where public sector workers need our support in their campaign for fair pay. Here in the North West, for example, there will be events happening in Liverpool, Chester, Manchester and Preston.
“No matter in which part of the economy employees work, people must be able to earn a fair living. In the autumn we hope that everyone who keeps being told the recovery is happening but can find no evidence of it in their personal lives will join our march and rally in London.
“On 18 October we have one big chance to show the government the strength of our resolve. We’ll have a very simple message – that Britain needs a pay rise. As the economy is recovering once more, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for ordinary people to want their fair share. In the difficult days since the economic crash, they paid the price in their pockets as benefit cuts, unemployment and stagnating pay made life tough for many.
“Now they keep hearing things are on the up, yet for many the recovery is something that can only be happening to someone else. Ordinary people don’t want much – just good jobs with decent wages, affordable homes and decent services in public hands.”