Union leaders threaten to strike over public sector pay cap

TUC condemns 'cherry picking' and presses for pay increase for all public sector workers

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 12 September 2017 00:19 BST
Police and prison officers could be in line for a pay rise above the 1 per cent limit
Police and prison officers could be in line for a pay rise above the 1 per cent limit (Getty)

Union leaders have raised the threat of strike action over the cap on public sector pay after accusing ministers of “cherry picking” certain workers for wage increases.

Reports suggest police and prison officers could be in line for a pay rise above the 1 per cent limit after the Government signalled it would lift the longstanding cap for specific public sector staff.

The move has drawn criticism from union chiefs, who are pressing for a 5 per cent pay hike for millions of nurses, civil servants and other public sector workers.

Several unions are balloting their members for industrial action, including PCS, the largest civil servants union, and the Prison Officers Association (POA), which will ask its control room staff to vote on industrial action.

It comes as Labour prepared to force a Commons vote on the cap for NHS workers on Wednesday, to heap pressure on ministers to act.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said “encouraging” noises from ministers were not enough to curb the rising tide of foodbank use, low pay and spiralling debts, as he led calls for a coordinated campaign of events, ballots and industrial action from millions of union workers.

He told delegates at the TUC annual conference in Brighton: “Be in no doubt, this Government cannot be trusted. They will try to divide us and to cherry pick.

“They will try to buy some of us off at the expense of others – dangling a carrot in the hope that we’ll back down.

“Perhaps with rises for those in uniforms, well Congress, it is rises for all public service workers that must be uniform.”

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said there was a “crisis in public sector pay” and claimed his workers would be 20 per cent worse off by 2020 if the cap is not lifted.

He said: “Our message is simple – scrap the cap and we all deserve a pay rise. Every public sector worker deserves a pay rise of at least 5 per cent to keep up with inflation and to make up some of the money that we have lost.”

The Treasury is due to set out the remit for public sector pay review bodies for next year’s pay round and Mr Hammond is under pressure to allow them greater flexibility to recommend more generous rises for other public sector workers.

Mr Serwotka added: “Wouldn’t it be great if we all had consultative ballots in the run up to the Budget to give May and Hammond something to think of? And if they don’t scrap the cap and give rises to us all, we will take united, coordinated strike action to defeat this Government and put money in our members’ pay packets.”

Earlier, the Government also faced criticism over its approach to Brexit when TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady compared the Prime Minister to a “supply teacher” presiding over a cabinet of unruly schoolchildren.

Ms O’Grady condemned the lack of a realistic negotiating strategy and urged politicians to “keep all options on the table” – including remaining in the single market in the long term.

The intervention, which comes after the TUC’s general council backed remaining in the single market, is likely to increase pressure on Labour to soften its position of only staying in the EU trade agreement during the post-Brexit transition period.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn will set out his plans for a “jobs-first Brexit” when he addresses the conference on Tuesday, as well as hitting out at “unscrupulous employers” who use the so-called gig economy to deny rights to their staff.

He was expected to say: “The ‘gig economy’ presents itself as modern and dynamic but all too often uses technology as a cover to deny both employees and customers basic protections.

“We need a government and economic and industrial policies that are not stuck in a 1980s time warp of neoliberal dogma, but are gripped by the necessity of channelling and shaping technological change to benefit the many not the few.”

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