The Government faced an angry backlash from millions of public sector workers today after revealing plans for three-year pay deals rather than the traditional 12-month agreements.
Union leaders questioned whether ministers could be trusted after a series of clashes over pay and controversy after the Government staged pay awards for NHS and other workers, including the police.
Chancellor Alistair Darling argued that a three-year deal would bring certainty to workers about future wages as well as help Government departments plan their future budgets.
It was argued that it would be easier to control inflation if wages were set for three years in the NHS, local government and other public sectors.
But the move was immediately rejected outright by one of the country's biggest trade unions and was criticised by other union leaders who questioned the Government's motives.
The GMB, which represents 300,000 public sector workers, said it " flatly rejected" the idea of a three-year pay deal.
National officer Brian Strutton said: "The argument that public sector pay has to be controlled to manage down inflation is economically flawed and socially unacceptable.
"Different parts of the public sector have different needs from pay negotiations."
Mr Strutton said union negotiators would want to see a premium for sacrificing future negotiating rounds which would mean any long-term deal having to go above the rate of inflation which he did not believe was the Government's intention.
Mr Strutton also questioned whether the Government could be trusted, adding: "The Government has already reneged on recent pay review body awards and who is to say they would honour a three-year deal? Their track record says otherwise."
The GMB said 1.5 million council workers were pressing for a one-year deal this year to catch up following recent low awards.
"The reality is that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling want to have public sector pay settled for political expediency because there will be a General Election in the next three years.
"We are not interested in these sort of games - we have members who need good pay rises."
Colin Moses, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, said the Government had broken promises on pay and union rights already, adding that he believed ministers could not be trusted to deliver a decent long-term pay deal.
"How can we trust this Government any more? We cannot trust them to deliver a 12-month deal, let alone a three-year agreement.
"We are always prepared to discuss pay but we would want massive legally-binding guarantees before agreeing a long-term deal."
An official from the Public and Commercial Services Union warned that some long-term deals have recently been imposed on civil servants which led to below-inflation rises or even wage freezes.
"If this is what the Government is talking about for all civil servants, that would obviously be completely unacceptable.
"However, if they are talking about three-year pay deals to address low pay and keep pace with inflation, that is something we would be interested in.
"We would have to see what is in the detail but I suspect they are not talking about keeping pay in line with inflation.
"There would have to be inflationary triggers whereby both parties could return to the negotiating table to renegotiate increases in line with inflation."
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said the real issue was about proper pay awards for public sector workers rather than the length of any deals.
"Below-inflation pay rises are pay cuts, whether they are over one, two or three years.
"Let us put the proper value on this key group of workers who deliver for us day in, day out, receiving the praise and goodwill of the British people but are slapped in the face by ministers who do not seem in touch with their staff."
A Government source said today: "Ten years ago we scrapped the old system of annual public spending rounds and introduced a new public spending framework with three-year financial settlements for departments.
"We want to extend this principle to public sector pay deals to provide greater certainty for departments and public sector workers.
"Going forward, we will look to extend multi-year pay deals across the public sector but each deal will need to be assessed on its individual merits and must be affordable and non-inflationary."
The Government is already on a collision course with unions after the Prime Minister made clear he wanted to limit public sector pay rises to 2% a year for the next three years.
Unions have already warned they will not accept attempts to hold down pay and there have been a series of strikes in the civil service which could flare up again in the coming months.Reuse content