Today, MPs will debate public sector day – and that’s down to the efforts of UNISON members across the country. Almost 150,000 UNISON members have signed our parliamentary petition calling on the government to put Pay Up Now! – leading to today’s debate.
Today is an opportunity for MPs of all parties to stand up for public servants and public services in their communities, and ensure that those who work so hard for all of us get the pay rises they need and deserve.
Ahead of the debate I wrote to the Prime Minister, I told her that after a life fighting for the interests of working people I am under no illusions about her government’s real plans. They have no plan for decent pay for public service workers, and no plan for decent public services. Yet if they’re going to surprise me, today’s debate would be a perfect opportunity. You can watch the debate online from 4.30pm here – and my letter to the Prime Minister is below.
Please watch the debate if you can. Together we can keep up the pressure on MPs to act, and Pay Up Now!
Dear Prime Minister
For more than seven years, public service workers have been getting steadily poorer as the gap between their wage rises and the cost of living has grown.
As a result they’ve been left thousands of pounds a year worse off, which has had a profound impact on the finances of millions of families, and on local economies, as households with public service employees rein in their spending.
Services too are suffering as many experienced staff from hospitals, local councils, schools and police forces, opt for less stressful, better paid jobs outside the public sector, and those same services struggle to attract sufficient numbers of new recruits.
In the recent budget, the Chancellor argued that the 1% public sector pay cap had been abandoned. This is a position other members of your cabinet have taken too.
Yet for the vast majority of public sector workers – for librarians, police and community support officers, nurses and school catering assistants – an effective pay cap remains, and they are still a long way off getting any extra money in their pockets.
Even though there was talk in the Budget of more money for health workers, reports since suggest that NHS staff may have to pay for their own wage rise, a hardly acceptable state of affairs after years of pay pain.
Each and every month, the value of public sector pay packets is in decline. And with inflation now 4%, the gap between what dedicated public servants are paid, and what they can afford, grows ever wider.
Of course, in a few sectors, your government has broken the cap. Yet what has been offered is still paltry. Wage offers that have edged over the 1% mark, but remain way below inflation, are still pay cuts in real terms, whichever way you look at it.
Unconsolidated, one off bonus payments, mean lower pay in years to come. And when the cash for those, hardly generous, wage rises has to be paid from existing budgets, it means any increases are going to have to be paid for with yet more cuts from the vital public services that communities across the country rely upon and almost certainly with more of the jobs of those who provide them.
In your first speech as Prime Minister you talked about “the mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone” and the concerns of those who “worry about the cost of living”. You went on to address them directly, saying: “I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”
Prime Minister, if this was truly the intention of your government, then instead of delivering further cuts to corporation tax, you’d be investing in those who work to serve all of us – like school caretakers, hospital cleaners and care workers – who have been pushed to the brink, and often beyond, by your government’s heartless pay policies. They are working around the clock, their lives are a struggle – but so far you have shown precious little interest in trying to make things better for them.
When it comes to the pounds in the pockets of public sector workers, I’m afraid actions speak louder than words. But it is that money in the hands of NHS, schools, police and council staff that could help ease the country’s gloomy growth prospects, as the households that have kept a close eye on their bank balances for so long finally feel able to start spending again on their local high streets.
On Monday (4 December) at 4.30pm, there will be a debate in Westminster, triggered by a Parliamentary petition I started back in September. It provides an opportunity for your government – for you – to take action. To save services. To save lives and careers.
After a life fighting for the interests of working people I am under no illusions about your government’s real plans. As things stand, it looks like you have no plan to restore public sector pay to pre-crisis levels. Nor do you have a plan to stop year on year pay misery, or to find a way of stemming the steady flow of disillusioned staff exiting our under pressure public services.
But on Monday, you have the opportunity to surprise me. I hope it is an opportunity your government will seize.
General Secretary, UNISON