Philip Hammond Philip Hammond. Photo: Flickr/Chatham House

Richard Allday sheds some light on the Tories’ new ‘pay rise’ for public sector workers

The government announcement last week, that it was ending the 1% pay cap for public sector workers, was headline news, and led the news bulletins of the BBC and ITN. A million workers, we were informed, were about to get their biggest wage increase since the Tories took charge in 2010. You could almost hear the smacking of greasy lips from beleaguered manufacturers of luxury goods – Rolls Royce and Bentley, Bombardier (owner of Learjet), seeing the prospect of full order books as a million public sector workers looked to spend their newfound wealth.

Well, not exactly. This was after all a Tory government press release. Or ‘lie’ as it is more technically known. But as with most Tory lies, they are lies of omission – that is, they state a half-truth, and wait for people to draw the wrong conclusions. So here are a few of the Tory lies exposed:

  • “Having considered the recommendations of the independent pay review bodies”, the chancellor decided to award pay increases well below the recommendations. Consider them he may have done; but he then chuckled, and ignored them. The government is not enacting the recommendations.
  • The chancellor has announced pay ‘rises’ that don’t match inflation; so that’s pay cuts then. Inflation for ordinary people is running at over 3.4%.
  • He has told the various departments to honour the new wage scales, but has not provided any new money to fund them. Not one penny. So departments already facing swingeing cuts have just been told to scrape the money for the new wage rates out of their existing budgets. So the pay cuts come at the expense of budget cuts.

The civil servants union, PCS, reckon just a 1% pay increase would need a funding increase of between 4-7%, depending on the department, and to feed into next year’s spending this would reach a whopping 11- 16%! None of which is provided for by Mr Hammond. (Findings of research carried out by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies [CLASS] commissioned by the PCS)

Dr Mary Bousted (Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union – the teachers’ and college lecturers’ union) has stated that “Schools will have to find more than £250 million from their already stretched budgets” – and this when we are already seeing record numbers of schools, forced into Academy status, financially floundering.

It is true that the NHS is not part of this pay award, having settled this year’s wage round some weeks ago, but in the eyes of many they are an integral part of the public sector, as are local council workers – including not just the dustbin and town hall workers, but the increasingly over-burdened social workers. All these groups are excluded from Hammond’s ‘largesse’, because they are paid by local councils and therefore ‘not the Chancellor’s responsibility’. This despite the fact that the Tories have cut central government funding to local councils, and limited their ability to raise their own revenues.

And of course, when talking of the NHS and local councils, any rise they do get is not across the board. Ambulance drivers employed by Virgin may drive ambulances with the NHS logo, but they don’t automatically get NHS pay – Branson hasn’t made himself an offshore billionaire by treating his staff well. He started his empire by screwing over his staff, why change the habit of a lifetime? The same goes for outsourced ‘NHS’ cleaners and other ancillary staff – the root cause of the major fight by St Bart’s Hospital ancillary staff last year. Likewise, for outsourced council workers, the dustcart may carry the council logo, but that doesn’t mean the crew are on council wages.

The pay rise awarded to the NHS (and accepted in union ballots, by 4:1 in Unite’s case, albeit on a very low – around 25% -turnout) comes with draconian strings, tied into the Agenda for Change (read: “Prepare for Privatisation”) and the insult to contracted out staff is, they wont get the pay rise, but the deterioration of terms and conditions will inevitably be passed on to them.

All these workers have been screwed by the Tory lies, but the question still remains: why did the Tories bother lying? They’ve held the line on screwing the public sector for the past 8 years, so what has changed? Two things, one major, one (at present) minor.

The first, and major, change is political: for the first time, austerity has had an open, direct, political challenge. The snap election Theresa May called, to smash the loony left leadership of Labour, has rebounded big time on her. The significance here is not so much in her lost majority, but that even her own side know they have lost the ideological argument. This is the root cause of the attempt to pretend the pay cap is over; the bizarre smears of antisemitism aimed at Corbyn, and the treachery of the 4 Labour MPs who voted with the Tories and saved May from a vote of confidence over Brexit.

It is not that they necessarily believe any of their own claptrap, but they are desperate to calumnify the faintest whiff of class politics.

The second (and at present, minor) cause is inextricably linked to this, and it is revealed in the two Departments of State that are excluded from the financial straitjacket imposed by Hammond. Those two departments are the MOD, and the Home Office. You can understand why the Tories may want Old Bill and the army on side, but why include the prison service in the privileged few? It couldn’t be because the prison officers union, the POA, is the only union to date that has openly stuck two fingers up to the Tory anti-union laws by taking action in defiance of them, and challenging the Tories to do something about it.

Which they duly did – they sat down and discussed with the POA the way forward. Could it be that the Tories have decided better to feed the tiger, rather than see it run wild? Could the frustration of the prison officers be the first swallow in a spring of resistance? Let’s hope so. One thing is for sure, the Tories are not fooling anybody with their doublespeak.

Richard Allday

Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage.  A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.

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