Pay: Labour worse than Tories, say unions

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The Independent Online
Employees' leaders yesterday registered anger over the Government decision to stage pay increases in the public sector, saying the Blair administration was worse than the Conservatives. Barrie Clement, Labour Editor looks at the big "fall-out" between new Labour and unions over wages.

Any reputation the Government may have enjoyed as broadly egalitarian came under severe strain after ministers agreed to a considerably higher pay rise for doctors than nurses. While the Cabinet agreed to grant GPs an increase of 5.2 per cent, nursing staff and associated health-service personnel will get 3.8 per cent. Malcolm Wing, head of nursing at Unison, the public-service union, said his members would be angry and disappointed that the new government had failed to deliver a "decent" deal.

"Another bitter pill for the nurses to swallow is the preferential treatment given to doctors. It's a double blow that will compound the deepening morale crisis". Ministers had failed to live up to their claims to value NHS staff. "They have short-changed nurses and let them down miserably." While the awards recommended by the pay-review bodies varied from 3.5 per cent for judges to 5.2 per cent for GPs, all public-sector workers covered by the review bodies would get 2 per cent initially, with the rest paid from December.

There was little doubt unionists had abandoned any hope that Labour might come to their rescue over wages. The Chancellor had ensured the intention to stage pay deals had been leaked, but the stark reality still hit home yesterday.

Public servants will get 2 per cent "upfront" at a time when the headline inflation rate is 3.6 per cent. Only the rise to be enjoyed by doctors will exceed the present average increase in earnings for the whole economy of 4.75 per cent. For all the tough words by employees' leaders, there is no indication that public servants are prepared to act to improve their lot or that union leaders are keen to foment industrial unrest.

Teachers, who will receive the same rise as nurses, registered their feeling of betrayal. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, accused New Labour of "behaving more savagely than its predecessor". It was the third year running that salary increases were staged. The new government's policies had contributed to a pounds 50-a-month rise in mortgage repayments for teachers with a pounds 40,000 mortgage. As a result of staging, teachers would lose pounds 50 a month, Mr McAvoy calculated. "This reduced rise will deepen the present failure to attract sufficient recruits to teaching. It will demoralise further those already in the profession who will see the enormous efforts they have made going unrewarded again."

John Edmonds, leader of the GMB general union, representing mostly blue- collar workers, accused the Government of "making the same old mistakes and using the same old excuses" as the last administration.