Opening the public sector pay debate at the 149th Trades Union Congress in Brighton, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “For millions of public service workers struggling to survive, there is no more pressing issue than lifting the pay cap.
“We’ve seen years of brutal austerity and vicious attacks on public services, overseen by an uncaring government whose pay policies are causing real hardship.
“In the first six years of Conservative rule, public sector pay rose by just 4.4 per cent, yet the cost of living soared by 22 per cent. And to rub salt into those wounds, the pay of top bosses rose by a third in one year alone.
“Whilst the rich feather their nests, public service workers struggle to afford the basics. The government call it prudence and restraint – I call it inhuman.
“Every single year it’s getting worse – the care worker who can’t afford the bus back from work, and the healthcare assistant walking home from his shift via the local foodbank. Then there’s the teaching assistant secretly applying for pay day loans, ashamed, frightened that if her boiler finally packs up this winter, her family is a cold snap away from disaster.
“A quarter of UNISON members – 300,000 public service workers – don’t know how they would pay for an unexpected expense. More than three quarters are buying less food and one in ten are missing entire meals to feed their children.
“It’s an outrage, and it’s getting worse. Inflation is three times the level of public sector pay rises. People face spiralling debts that are impossible to repay.
“The noises we’re hearing are encouraging, but scrapping the cap is not enough. We must fight for real pay rises, real funding and real change.
“This government cannot be trusted. Ministers will try to divide us and to cherry pick. They will try to buy some of us off at the expense of others – dangling a carrot in the hope that we’ll back down. Perhaps there will be rises for those in uniforms, when it’s rises for all public service workers that must be uniform.
“We must not fall into their trap. We stand together or we fall together. So we need to be unified and demand real pay rises for every public servant. For the police officer, but also the police community support officer. For nurses, but also care staff, social workers, ambulance workers and healthcare assistants. And for teachers but also teaching assistants, school meals staff and caretakers.
“We must commit to marching, demonstrating and lobbying – not just in Westminster, but in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh too. We need public events in every major city and town across the country, to change the face of politics and hold Conservative MPs to account in their own backyards. And joint ballots for industrial action if all else fails.
“For the past century our movement had been shaped by history. Now is the time for our movement to make history. We need to fight for fairness, injustice and a pay rise for all public service workers now.”