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Unions’ pay claims put pressure on the Tories to give rises

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Issue 2572
Health unions are demanding a 3.9 percent pay rise
Health unions are demanding a 3.9 percent pay rise (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Pressure is mounting on Theresa May to lift the public sector pay cap with a new poll showing that 62 percent of people want it scrapped.

Fourteen health unions and staff organisations demanded a 3.9 percent pay rise plus an £800 lump sum for a million NHS workers last week. The coalition includes the Unison, Unite and GMB unions and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Their demand came after May was humiliated in parliament last Wednesday.

A Labour Party motion demanding an end to the 1 percent public sector pay cap for health workers passed unopposed.

Sam Strudwick, a health worker and Unison union member, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. “Now that the Tories have suffered a setback, we have to go on the offensive,” she said.

“We have to fight for real pay rises for all NHS workers. Now is the time for all unions to fight together—we have to put pressure on our union leaders for strikes.”

Directly demanding a pay rise is a significant step for the unions. Normally the government, bosses and unions submit evidence to “independent” pay review bodies, which then recommend pay deals.

But health unions said the review bodies have been “severely restricted” by the pay cap since 2010.

Unison, Unite and GMB lodged a 5 percent pay claim for local government workers in June.

Both the Unison and RCN leaderships have made clear that the Tories must agree above inflation pay rises.

The 3.9 percent pay claim is above bosses’ preferred CPI inflation rate of 2.9 percent.


But it matches the higher RPI rate of inflation (see below).

The additional £800 would begin to make up for a decade of lost pay.

There is a growing mood to fight over pay. Organising around it can put pressure on union leaders to back up their words with action.

Helen O’Sullivan, a Unison member in south Wales, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.

“We’ve been doing drop-in clinics for people in workplaces promoting the ‘pay up now’ campaign,” she said.

“There are a lot of low paid care staff—and people are interested. We’re also going to visit different workplaces with social workers and housing and adult services.”

Labour has pledged to lift the pay cap, and the party’s left wing leadership said it would support strikes against it.

But shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler said, “We are not talking about an above-inflation pay rise.”

All public sector workers should get above-inflation pay rises funded by taxing the rich, not by slashing services elsewhere.

Union leaders should ballot their members for industrial action, not wait for a Labour government.

If workers strike, they have the power not only to break the cap, but to break the Tory government.

Different inflation measures matter for living standards

  • The Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rate is currently 2.9 percent and the Retail Price Index (RPI) is 3.9 percent
  • Bosses prefer the CPI measure as it is nearly always the lowest
  • It was brought in by the European Union to measure governments’ fiscal responsibility
  • Workers should demand rises above the RPI measure, which includes housing costs

Firefighters throw out shoddy pay deal amid anger over extra duties

Firefighters in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) defied recommendations from their union leaders and executive council and rejected a pay deal on Wednesday of last week.

Fire authority bosses had offered a pay increase of 2 percent for this year—backdated to 1 July—and possible further increases in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

But the offer included the condition that firefighters perform extra duties. And bosses wouldn’t even guarantee that the further increases would actually be paid.

Firefighters in 32 fire brigades have been taking part in trials of emergency medical response since 2015. This means firefighters respond to emergencies alongside paramedics.

Andrew Scattergood from the West Midlands FBU branch, which opposed the offer, said firefighters were being asked to carry out increasingly unsuitable duties.

“What started as being asked to respond to heart attacks became being asked to respond to choking, to babies who’ve stopped breathing,” he said.

Firefighters aren’t fully trained for such tasks—but getting firefighters to carry them out will run down the NHS.


“Every ambulance service in the country is stretched to breaking point,” said Andrew.

“Ambulance trusts realised they’ve got people there and used them for calls that perhaps they shouldn’t have used them for.”

He added, “Firefighters are about £2,500 worse off than they were in 2010. If you speak to our brothers and sisters somewhere just outside London, like Essex, the price of living is putting them in really difficult situations.

“What I was picking up from members was you’re talking between 15 and 25 percent as a pay offer before they would consider expanding their role.”

FBU leaders had hoped that agreeing to take on extra work would help to stop further job cuts. Bosses have justified cuts by pointing to falling emergency calls to the fire service.

But Andrew said, “If you look on social media, there wasn’t much positive to be said about the offer.”

The government is on the back foot over public sector pay—and other unions are preparing a fight.

The FBU has to fight for a pay increase that beats inflation and makes up for years of pay cuts.

PCS plans consultative ballot as protests loom

Civil service workers are set to join pay day protests outside their workplaces on Friday of next week.

The protests are part of the PCS union’s campaign to beat the public sector limits.

Civil service workers have suffered years of real-terms pay cuts.

In two of the largest government departments, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the lowest paid workers earn less than £20,000 a year.

The PCS typically puts in a pay claim at both departments from May.

But in HMRC the government has never agreed to a pay rise above 1 percent.


Although the PCS signed a deal for DWP workers to get pay rises slightly above 1 percent, the increases are still well below inflation.

And the deal involved sacrificing terms and conditions.

The PCS will be asking over 160,000 of its members to vote in a consultative ballot from 9 October to 6 November.

The ballot will ask workers if they’d be prepared to take industrial action to break the pay cap.

It could be a stepping stone to a formal strike ballot in the future.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has said the union will use the ballot results to show where to concentrate campaigning resources in a real ballot.

PCS activists should use the pay day protests to build a strong yes vote in the ballot, and build union membership.

Lecturers could join the fight

Further education (FE) workers could join the fight to break the pay cap.

The UCU union has agreed to ballot workers for industrial action if bosses’ pay offer this year is unsatisfactory.

The Association of Colleges could respond this Tuesday to a joint pay claim lodged by the Unite, UCU, Unison, GMB and ATL unions in May.

They demanded pay rises that matched the RPI rate of inflation, plus 3 percent on all pay points with a minimum rise of £900.

The UCU is holding an online consultation, due to end on 29 September, asking members if they would take industrial action.

Other unions in FE should also ballot for strikes.


Meanwhile teachers in England received a below-inflation pay rise from this month after a pay review body recommendation.

Kevin Courtney, then general secretary of the NUT union, said in July that the deal was a “missed opportunity”.

He is now joint general secretary of the newly-formed National Education Union (NEU), the biggest teaching union.

Courtney and the NEU leadership should not miss the opportunity to join the fight against the pay cap.

Stefan Simms is on the national executive committee of the NUT.

“We should at least follow the UCU and PCS and hold indicative ballots over pay,” he told Socialist Worker.

Join the Manchester march

People from across Britain are organising to march on the Tory party conference in Manchester on Sunday 1 October.

The People’s Assembly called the protest. The TUC union federation has also called a series of pay rallies, including a national one outside parliament on 17 October.

Karen Reissmann, a Unison union national executive member, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. “The key things are the demonstration at the Tory party conference and the pay rally in London,” she said.

“People need to take delegations and hold local pay rallies.”

Go to thepeoples for coach details. For rallies see


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