THE BLOG

Ministers Are Ducking Responsibility Over Pay

04/07/2017 15:43 BST | Updated 04/07/2017 15:43 BST
Rick Findler/PA Wire

After all the U-turns and ministerial manoeuvres, you have to be quite nimble to keep up with where the government is at over the public sector pay cap. But the claim that we should just wait for pay review bodies to make recommendations shows some still seem to think they can duck responsibility.

Even if it were true that pay review bodies were free to breach 1%, given that is existing policy until 2020, this only tells half the story. In fact, it is less than half.

Only 45% of public sector workers are currently covered by a pay review body. Below the senior grades, there is no such body for the civil service and its various related agencies and public bodies. And the way pay is determined for the people I represent is a textbook case of the government's hypocrisy on this issue.

We have a system known as delegated pay, where notionally departments and agencies act as individual employers to negotiate pay and conditions with their own staff. In reality, the Treasury holds the purse strings by issuing what it laughably calls "guidance" each year.

This outlines "a framework within which all departments will set pay", this year again capped at 1%, where proposals "must be approved by the relevant Secretary of State" and "must comply with this guidance". As a final check, departments are required to submit data to the Treasury "to confirm [they] are abiding by the parameters set". Not so much guidance then, more instruction.

The objective is to separate jobcentre workers from those who collect the taxes all our public services rely on. To detach staff in courts from officials at our borders, and from civilians who provide training, equipment and support to the military. The list goes on, with hundreds of thousands of workers in scores of different parts of government all told their pay is set by their managers when really it is stitched up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It is a grossly inefficient and unfair way to decide pay, and we have long called for it to be scrapped so we can return to national negotiations, but this divide and rule of the government's own workforce is the wider public sector in microcosm. All the signs are that the Tories are shaping up to pick off certain sectors and groups of workers.

We cannot allow this to happen. We are, as someone once said, all in it together. Yes nurses need a pay rise, but so do the hospital porters and the cleaners. Of course teachers deserve more, but so do the caretakers, teaching assistants and office staff. The crisis in living standards felt by firefighters is also hitting their colleagues in the control room.

While it is tempting to say the general election result was inconclusive, one thing is clear: the Tories have no mandate to maintain the pay cap and some government ministers now appear to accept this.

This government is far from the strong and stable one we were promised by Theresa May. And while we are not there yet, with more of a concerted and unified campaign from the unions, I believe we can bring an end to the pay cap. But it must mean an end for all public servants and the pay rises that would follow must be pay rises across the board. Nothing else will be acceptable.