Unite responds to Ben Wallace comments on public sector pay disputes

Minister ratchets up hardline stance as he rejects claim government is sabotaging efforts to end strikes

4 Jan 2023| News

Photo: Pippa Fowles / No10 Downing Street

Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace has claimed that trade unions are seeking to hold the Government “to ransom” by demanding direct talks on public sector pay. Speaking at Manchester airport, where he met military personnel covering for Border Force staff, the Minister said:

“We’re not going back to the 1970s where the trade union barons thought that they ran the government. They used to meet in Downing Street and tell the Labour government of the day what they’re going to do. We’re not going to go back to that. We’re not going to be held to ransom.

The trade unions can negotiate, they can negotiate with their employers and try and come to a resolution. That’s the most important thing. There’s no magic wand here to come up with money that the country doesn’t have.

Ultimately we’re in a position where we’re trying to listen to the independent advice, through the independent pay bodies, offer a settlement to the workforces and then try and bring that to a resolution. But if the trade union leadership think we’re all just going to ignore these independent bodies to suit their agenda then they’ll be mistaken.”

Wallace was responding to comments made by new TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak, who had previously warned that the Government’s “war of attrition” against the unions would fail:

“The government is going to have to take responsibility. The public will clearly identify where the responsibility lies. Maybe they’ll try and brazen it out until the spring and to the budget but I just don’t think our members are going to sit quietly waiting for that to come. I don’t think promises of jam tomorrow will cut it with people.

If you’re in the public services feeling hard-pressed it feels like the only solution being put forward by government is that you’re expected to show a little bit of pay restraint. You’re the one supposed to suffer. It doesn’t feel like this is a burden fairly shared across the country,”

Responding to Wallace’s attack on the trade unions, Sharon Graham, Unite General Secretary said:

“This government is spinning a web of lies to divert the blame for who is really responsible for the economic crisis engulfing the country. The unions ‘holding the country to ransom’ is another to add to their long list.

Ben Wallace’s comments are puerile. The truth is that it is bandit capitalism that’s holding the country to ransom. The FT 350 whose profit margins soared 73 per cent during the pandemic; big energy whose £170 billion ’‘excess profits’ are forecast for this year and next; and City bankers’ £33bn excess profits predicted for this year are holding the country to ransom. And they are but a few.

Government ministers used to applaud NHS workers every Thursday for their courage and sacrifice; now that they are striking to break years of pay freezes they are ‘holding the country to ransom’. This government is a collection of hypocrites and shysters.”