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The backlash over public sector pay is escalating, with trade unions threatening coordinated strikes as opposition politicians demand reassurances that there will be no staffing cuts when Theresa May lifts a 1% pay cap.
After months of arguments, ministers thought they might hear faint praise this week when they approved pay rises of 2% for police and 1.7% for prison officers in 2017-18. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said raises for all public sector workers in 2018-19 could be greater than 1%, “ending the cap that had been in place for seven years”, reports The Guardian.
However, the announcement merely inflamed the debate and provoked the unions. During Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asked: “Can the Prime Minister guarantee no more police or prison officers will be lost as a result of decisions she has made this week?”
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May did not answer, instead arguing that factors such as incremental progression pay and tax cuts had actually left many public sector staff better off than before. But with inflation rising to 2.9% in August, the unions weren’t feeling better off with pay rises of 2% or less.
On the Huffington Post, Paul Waugh writes: “The PM’s spokesman told us the Cabinet recognised the need for ‘more flexibility’, but you can’t pay the bills with flexibility.”
The Government’s decision to lift the public sector pay cap for specific workers also drew criticism from union chiefs, “who are pressing for a 5% pay hike for millions of nurses, civil servants and other public sector workers”, says The Independent.
Several unions are balloting their members for industrial action, including PCS, the largest civil servants union, and the Prison Officers Association (POA), which will ask its control room staff to vote on industrial action.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey says he would back illegal strikes over the issue.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told delegates at the TUC annual conference in Brighton: “Be in no doubt, this Government cannot be trusted.”
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