Caving into public pressure, the government announced yesterday (September 12) that it will finally put an end to the public sector pay cap, first giving police and prison officers a pay rise now, with an additional commitment to ‘greater flexibility’ on pay for all public sector workers from next year.
But trade unions, including Unite, as well as Labour, have slammed the government’s approach on lifting the cap, saying the latest pay awards for police and prison officers still amount to real-terms pay cut.
No. 10 announced that police officers will get a one per cent rise plus a one per cent bonus, while prison officers will receive a 1.7 per cent rise — just barely above the 1 per cent pay cap that had in been in place since 2013, which was preceded by a three-year pay freeze.
And even these headline pay increases are not what they seem — a written statement from treasury secretary Liz Truss notes that only police in federated ranks, such as constables, sergeants and inspectors and those ranked above would receive the 1 per cent bonus in addition to the 1 per cent rise. Those ranked below will not receive the bonus. What’s more, prison officer pay rises will vary depending on which pay band they’re on and their performance rating.
The Prison Officers Association (POA) slammed the pay rise, saying it still amounted to a pay cut since inflation has skyrocketed to nearly 3 per cent in August. Worryingly, the pay rises will have to be funded from existing budgets, without any additional funding from the government, meaning austerity-plagued services may have to be further cut.
The Police Federation likewise criticised the latest pay offer — the Federation’s chair Steve White said members were “angry and deflated”.
“We were not greedy in what we asked for,” he said. “Officers have been taking home about 15 per cent less than they were seven years ago.”
Speaking at the TUC conference yesterday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn lambasted the government, saying, “Today, as inflation rises to nearly 3 per cent, they are trying to divide people on the cheap.The POA is right, a pay cut is a pay cut. We must be united in breaking the pay cap for all workers.”
Corbyn reaffirmed a Labour manifesto commitment to properly lift the cap.
“The Labour Party totally rejects the Tories’ attempt at divide and rule, to play one sector off against another,” he said. “A Labour government will end the public sector pay cap and give all workers the pay rise they deserve and so desperately need.”
The TUC Congress was united this week in demanding a 5 per cent pay rise for all public sector workers, who have suffered seven years of falling living standards, leaving many of them turning to food banks as they struggle to make ends meet.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called the below-inflation pay offer “pathetic”.
“Public sector workers have suffered seven long years of real pay cuts, and are thousands of pounds worse off,” she said. “Today’s announcement means bills will continue to rise faster than their wages.”
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail also branded the announcement “pathetic”, saying it “will do nothing to address the pay misery that public sector workers have had to endure over the last seven years.
“The government has signalled a ‘pick and mix’ approach to lifting the pay cap and with no new money it is difficult to see how austerity ravaged services will be able to afford to give a decent pay rise in the coming months,” she added.
“It cannot be right that our public servants, the people who care for our sick, who keep us safe and clean our streets struggle to make ends meet and are forced to rely on foodbanks,” Cartmail noted.
“All our public servants deserve a decent pay rise that keeps up with inflation and undoes the years of real term pay cuts they have suffered at the hands of Tory minsters.”