15 September 2017
The government was this week defeated on the question of public sector pay after the DUP supported a Labour motion to raise wages for NHS workers.
On Wednesday (14 September 2017), Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth brought a motion on lifting the public sector pay cap, which gained DUP support. The Northern Irish leaders agree earlier this year to back the Tories in some areas of policy in order to preserve a Conservative majority in parliament.
The motion was allowed to pass but not pushed to a vote after the Conservative Party abstained in order to soften the blow of a defeat in the Commons.
Earlier this week, May caved into pressure to lift the public sector pay freeze after seven years of austerity, announcing that the government would have “flexibility” over the 1% cap in pay rises in 2018/19. The news came on the same day the government announced the 1% rise on police officers’ pay would be lifted by a 1% bonus in 2017/18, and that prison officers would receive an average 1.7% pay rise, angering unions, who highlighted that these meagre offerings still represented a pay cut in real terms.
Speaking to the Commons on Wednesday, Ashworth warned that the government must be held to account on its vow to unfreeze public sector pay, and called upon to provide fair raises to the millions of workers who have suffered under austerity.
“Given that the government are now briefing that the cap is being abandoned … let us put them on notice that it must apply to the whole public sector, including the 55% of workers not covered by pay review bodies,” he said.
“We also put them on warning that we will not accept a divide-and-rule approach that plays one set of public workers off against another. Nor will we let Ministers get away with presenting below-inflation pay offers as amounting to a fair pay rise when that is still, in effect, a pay cut.”
Unions have taken the baton forward, placing pressure on the government to take action, with NHS workers demanding a 3.9% pay rise for one million staff, plus an extra £800 bonus as compensation for the losses workers have suffered since the freeze. The impact of austerity has seen average wages among NHS staff fall by 15% in real terms.
General Secretary of Unison, which coordinated the joint action by 14 unions, Dave Prentis said the Tories have “lost the argument on public sector pay”.
“Ministers must know they’re in the wrong when even their quasi-coalition partners in the DUP have turned against them, and backed pay rises for NHS workers,” he commented.
“It’s now time for the PM and the Chancellor to deliver those proper pay rises, and not drag this out a day longer. We’’ll be keeping up the pressure on all MPs until the vote, and until all public servants get the pay rises they deserve.”
Delegates at TUC Congress this week voted for a 5% pay rise for public sector workers, and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey revealed he would consider going outside of the law in order to stand up for fair wages for those employed by the state.
“In terms of the concept of a coordinated public service workers’ action, yes I think that’s very likely and very much on the cards. If the government has pushed us outside the law, they will have to stand the consequences,” he said.