After years of protests and falling living standards for public sector workers, the government may finally be reversing its stance on public sector pay.
The government today (September 4) refused to deny that it planned on lifting the 1 per cent public sector pay cap in a briefing today, after the Sun reported that the cap would indeed be lifted.
According to the Sun, the government may end the cap in a phased process over two years, with the lowest paid professions and those with the greatest retention problems such as nurses to benefit first from the pay rise.
When asked about the Sun story, a government spokesperson said that in the autumn, the Treasury would be writing to the pay review bodies outlining their remit, after which departments would submit evidence and then offer their recommendations in the spring.
When pressed again on whether Downing Street would confirm the Sun story, the Guardian reported that the spokesperson simply ignored the question.
In the strongest hint yet that the cap would be lifted, the spokesperson said, “[The prime minister] has said on a number of occasions that many people in the public and private sectors feel they are just about managing. We recognise the sacrifice they are making.”
If the cap is in fact lifted, it will be only after nearly 10 years of pay freezes and 1 per cent rises. In real terms, this means public servants have had year after year of falling pay.
Research by Unite has found that local authority workers have suffered on average a 21 per cent pay cut in real terms since the Conservative government introduced the public sector pay cap in 2010, while the majority of NHS workers have seen their pay fall by 14 per cent in real terms.
Low pay in the public sector is almost always accompanied by a stressful work conditions. The NHS is, for example, facing a mounting recruitment and retention problem, leaving those still working in the health service with ever increasing workloads.
A survey of public sector workers found that 95 per cent worked beyond their contracted hours on a regular basis, and 93 per cent reported that they feel stressed all, some or a lot of the time.
This only further compounds the staffing crisis in the public sector. Just last week, UNITElive reported that many GPs were planning on retiring early because of concerns with unmanageable workloads.
The latest news that the government may be lifting the public sector pay cap comes after Tory MPs banded together with DUP MPs to vote down a Labour amendment ending the cap in June.
A slim majority of 14 only just stopped Labour’s effort to give public sector workers the pay rise they’ve been waiting for.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said that it was about time the pay cap is lifted, but warned that the government must couple their proposals with a compensation package to reverse the years of falling living standards public sector workers have suffered.
“Public sector workers have had to endure seven years of pay misery,” she said. “Workers, who have dedicated their lives to working for the public, have had to continually cut their household spending. Most now only have enough to just about cover the bare essentials and, in some cases, workers have had to resort to food banks to make ends meet.
“The government’s proposals, which will not even come into effect until 2019 for many workers, are a drop in the ocean and will do nothing, to address the years of pay cuts our public servants have had to endure,” she added. “Ministers make no mention of compensating workers for their lost wages.
“The government’s proposals appear to further undermine the independent pay review process, which has been neutered by the government’s pay cap.
“The independent pay review bodies must be tasked with tackling the challenges of restoring pay to levels which will help to begin tackling the recruitment and retention crisis that is afflicting our public services.”