Unison warns of pay freeze 'explosion'


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Indy Politics

A backlash against the Government's public sector pay freeze is set to "explode" and could lead to a fresh bout of strikes, a senior union leader warned today.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said he was determined to "smash" the coalition's policy of freezing the wages of council, health and other workers, followed by two years of pegging rises to 1%.

He told his union's annual conference in Bournemouth that industrial action will be taken if necessary to fight the "squeeze" on pay, adding that a demonstration in London on October 20 against the Government's policies will be the biggest ever held in this country.

Earlier, he smashed a metre-high frozen pound sign to symbolise Unison's campaign for a wage rise for millions of workers.

"We are putting the Government on notice. Our demand is for decent pay. If we cannot win through negotiation we will fight to win it through strike action. We will smash the pay freeze.

"Putting pay on ice has been devastating for public sector workers and their families. It cannot go on and we will not let it go on. They are scared of spending in shops and businesses and this is not only misery for families, but also condemns our chances of economic recovery to the dustbin."

Mr Prentis also attacked Labour, saying it had built the bridges that the Conservatives now marched over, laying the foundations for NHS privatisation, the public finance initiative and academy schools.

"The collapse in support for the coalition should not be interpreted by Labour as a ringing endorsement. Andy Burnham's (shadow health secretary) promise to repeal the health act is great news, but to win back our trust, Labour has to do so much more. Not being as bad as the Tories is not good enough."

Mr Prentis took a swipe at Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who were criticised by unions when they spoke out in favour of pay restraint.

"They disprove the theory that two Eds are better than one. We want their support in tough times, not their lectures. Comments supporting pay restraint were provocative. If they continue, there is no way labour will get the support of our members and this union."

Mr Prentis said later that a number of public sector unions were moving on from the long-running pensions dispute, to campaign against the pay freeze.

"People are turning against the austerity agenda, and on October 20 we will bring together groups opposed to what the Government is doing to the NHS, pay and jobs. Half a million people took part in last year's TUC march, but this one will be the biggest demonstration this country has ever seen.

"The pay policy will explode - and we will make sure that it does."

Unison President Eleanor Smith said the Government was hell-bent on bringing "discord, disharmony, doubt and despair" to ordinary people.

Opening the conference, she said "unjust" wage freezes were hitting workers across the country, while the poorest areas would be affected most if the Government presses ahead with introducing regional pay rates in the public sector.

"The Government's austerity measures have just plunged us back into recession. Instead of paying off the deficit, it has actually increased."

Ms Smith, who works as a nurse in Birmingham Women's Hospital, said the Government was now introducing a "step change" in privatising public services, adding: "Their ideological agenda means they want to privatise anything and everything. the tired-out rhetoric of private good, public bad, has been resurrected - and this now extends to the police.

"David Cameron is leading a Government hell-bent on bringing discord, disharmony, doubt and despair to ordinary people, their families and their communities."