As the TUC conference begins in Brighton today, various unions are stepping up the pressure over public sector pay rises, which have been set at a below-inflation 2%. Many want the TUC to approve a major protest campaign, while one is even calling for a national strike. Leaders will no doubt be railing at fat cat pay rises, at a time when ordinary workers are struggling – but can they expect a sympathetic public reaction?
It’s not unusual to see a bit of union sabre-rattling over pay at the conference, of course, but this year is likely to be more fraught than most. The seven unions demanding a concerted protest campaign (led by Unison and the Public and Commercial Services Union) say the recent 2% pay hike awarded by the Government – at a time when inflation is running at more than 4% - is ‘unfair and unjust’.
In fact, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka went even further, calling it ‘morally bankrupt’ and demanding action: ‘We need to get tens of thousands of people on the streets to show how angry they feel,’ he raged. The Prison Officers Association wants to go further still, calling for a public-sector wide national strike. And the TUC is clearly sympathetic: general secretary Brendan Barber told the conference: ‘It's not fair that employees are facing a fall in their living standards while top bosses see their pay packets go up by 20% or even 30%.’
The problem is, that may not be entirely true. A survey out today from salary specialists Income Data Services suggests that management pay hikes have also declined to below-inflation levels. Apparently the average pay hike for senior bosses fell from 4.7% to 3.9% last quarter, while managers across the board are getting an average increase of 3.8% - just 0.3% above the average for non-management staff. ‘Top tier management are now starting to share some of the pain felt by their more junior colleagues,’ says IDS’s Steve Tatton.
There’s no question that the pay issue is a having an effect on the public sector – one survey carried out by the union Prospect recently found that more than half the Government’s skilled workers would not recommend the career to their friends, thanks to the ‘inadequate’ and ‘broken’ civil service pay structure. But it’s not necessarily true that big bosses are doing a lot better – and that’s a big boost for Government calls for pay restraint, as it tries to keep a lid on inflation. The unions may find the public less than sympathetic to their claims, if it ends up pushing household bills even higher...
In today's bulletin:
Britain bounces after US mortgage bail-out
Primark bounces back with further growth
EDF powers back into British Energy deal
Falling management pay bucks union claims
Rose wine provides some consolation