Britain sets out public sector pay deal, draws union ire

by Reuters
Thursday, 13 March 2014 14:14 GMT

LONDON, March 13 (Reuters) - The British government set out on Thursday which public sector workers will receive a 1 percent pay increase in 2014, drawing anger from trade unions who said the deal would mean many health service staff would miss out.

Since coming to power in 2010, Britain's coalition government has enforced a policy of pay restraint for public sector workers, with salaries rising only 1 percent a year, as part of its plan to cut the budget deficit.

Wages in both the public and the private sector have failed to keep pace with inflation over the last few years, though public sector workers enjoyed stronger wage rises while Britain was in recession in 2008 and 2009.

Last year, wages across the economy as a whole rose just 1.1 percent, barely half the rate of inflation.

The continued restraint in public sector pay contrasts with the situation in the private sector, where there are some signs that pay growth will pick up this year. The government has also approved a 3 percent rise in the minimum wage.

"We need to continue with public sector pay restraint in order to put the nation's finances back on a sustainable footing," said Deputy Finance Minister Danny Alexander in a statement.

The government said it accepted recommendations from advisors that the armed forces, prison and judicary staff, and contractor doctors and dentists should receive a 1 percent pay hike.

Most National Health Service (NHS) staff get a pay rise linked to their length of service, typically around 3 percent.

But the government said staff who receive this will not get the annual pay rise of 1 percent, as would usually be the case.

Trade unions reacted angrily to the deal.

The Unite union said it was "underhand" of the government to imply that length-of-service pay, intended to reward skill and experience, was part of the annual pay rise.

"This is a gravy train for the elite, while nurses, health visitors, paramedics and speech and language therapists are treated with contempt," said Rachel Maskell, head of health at Unite.

Britain's largest trade union Unison said the deal would leave 70 percent of nurses and midwives without an annual pay rise because they receive the unrelated length-of-service pay.

"What sort of message does this give to the value this Government places on dedicated NHS staff?" said Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison.

Both Unite and the GMB union have said they will consult their NHS members on what steps it should take in response.

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