Public sector demand big rises

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The Independent Online

Public-sector workers are demanding inflation-busting pay rises, threatening a direct clash with the Government ahead of a general election next year.

Public-sector workers are demanding inflation-busting pay rises, threatening a direct clash with the Government ahead of a general election next year.

Chancellor Gordon Brown will urge trade unions at this week's TUC conference not to jeopardise his strategy for improving public services by insisting on substantial pay rises.

But teachers, GPs and nurses have all made it clear in submissions to the pay review body that they will not tolerate another paltry pay settlement.

The British Medical Association, which will submit its bid for doctors this week, said: "The NHS plan introduced a whole range of demands on doctors' hours and on the workload. The fact they are having to look for doctors abroad indicates there is a severe shortage. They need to keep doctors here from retiring in their fifties."

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), covering 320,000 nurses and midwives, will also point to severe nurse shortages as a case for higher pay for low and middle-ranking nurses. The highest paid nurses can earn £30,490 but experienced staff nurses may get only £16,800 a year.

Unison, the public sector union, will submit a joint claim with the RCN for its staff, warning of "widespread discontent" that the extra money earmarked for public services was not going to the staff. They are calling for a "substantial" increase.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) said that problems in recruiting teachers from a pool of young graduates were down to the low starting salaries on offer. In private schools, starting salaries are around £22,000, while teachers in the state sector start on £16,050. A head of department in a state school earns, on average, £10,000 less a year than his or her private school counterpart.

The teaching unions are likely to ask for an increase of around 15 per cent. They are also calling for better working conditions, including smaller class sizes and more free hours outside the classroom.

An NUT source said: "We will be asking for a substantial increase across the board, and fiddling around with performance-related pay is not going to achieve it.

"In terms of starting salaries, we are recruiting against the Arthur Andersens of this world and we can't compete."

Despite the demands of Britain's 1.3 million public-sector workers, which also include police, civil servants and members of the armed forces, Mr Brown is understood to favour a prudent approach of pay rises pegged to inflation.

But the unrest over pay, which has been marked by a growing militancy among some public-sector staff, is likely to prove embarrassing for the Government in the run-up to the pre-Budget report in November and, more crucially, the general election, which is expected to be held next May.

The unions are expected to back their claims for more cash by quoting reports that the Government is going abroad for staff, including nurses from China and the Philippines, social workers from South Africa, teachers from Australia and doctors from Europe, Australia and Canada.