Unions deride ‘repugnant’ below-inflation pay cap lift

Written by Tamsin Rutter on 12 September 2017 in News
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Prison Officers Association rejects pay boost, as more public sector trade unions moot industrial action

The annual pay increase for prison officers is expected to cost the Ministry of Justice £29m. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/PA

Trade unions have reacted with disdain and fury to the announcement today that Theresa May is planning greater flexibility on public sector pay from 2018, with prison and police officers to receive rises of more than 1% but less than inflation this year.

It has been confirmed that police officers will receive a 2% pay boost for 2017/18 – half of which is a one-off bonus – while prison officers will get an average 1.7% rise.

Both will be funded from existing budgets, with the annual pay increase for prison officers expected to cost the Ministry of Justice £29m.

In a joint statement released on the third day of the TUC conference, HM Treasury and the prime minister’s office said the government recognises that “more flexibility may be required” in 2018/19, particularly in areas of skills shortage.


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But trade unions have said that with the UK inflation rate at 2.9%, these pay awards still amount to “a pay cut in real terms”, which will do little to address recruitment and retention issues across the public sector.

Reports leaked earlier this month suggested that ministers were gearing up to give the green light to pay rises in line with inflation.

Glyn Travis, assistant general secretary at the Prison Officers Association, said the union “wholeheartedly rejects” the “unacceptable” pay offer, and will be balloting its members on industrial action in the coming weeks.

He told Civil Service World that the Prison Service Pay Review Body had announced a £400 across-the-board consolidated pay award, which the POA has calculated as a boost for staff of between 1.2% and 1.7%.

The 1.7% figure used in the government statement includes performance-related bonuses, which are predominantly granted to prison governors and non-operational staff, Travis added.

“This is totally repugnant and a derisory offer from government,” he said. “It doesn’t stop the campaign and organisation within the wider trade union movement to smash the cap and get rid of it altogether.”

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, the union representing senior civil servants, said that after seven years of pay restraint, this announcement will satisfy no one.

He added: “So the government finally unlocks the pay cap, but does so without understanding how such a mealy-mouthed attempt will play with public servants or their representatives.

“With no additional funding, this will simply heap further pressure on already overstretched departments to make more cuts.

“Today’s announcement is not a pay strategy for the public sector, it’s a political reaction to events – and not a very good one.”

Lifting the cap – which has been in place since 2012 and followed a two-year pay freeze – will affect the 45% of public sector workers who are covered by a Pay Review Body.

Prospect, the trade union representing civil service specialists including engineers and scientists, says seven years of pay restraint has seen pay fall by 15% in real terms.

Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said the announcement offered nothing to civil servants, who “will not be bought off with vague promises of a review”.

He added: “The pay cap will not be dead until public sector workers see more money in their pay packets.

“This isn’t just about pay review bodies or staff shortages it is about ensuring the Treasury provides the investment necessary for a fair pay rise across our public services.”

Clancy derided the government’s plan to lift the cap for select groups of public sector workers. “Any attempt to cherry-pick which public servants deserve a pay rise will be a betrayal to the expertise and dedication public servants make for the good of the country,” he said.

“We have asked government to listen to reason. It’s increasingly clear we will need to do more than that and Prospect is now focused on real action for change not rhetoric.”

PCS, the biggest civil service union, announced last week that it planned to ballot members on support for industrial action over pay.

About the author

Tamsin Rutter is senior reporter for Civil Service World and tweets as @TamsinRutter

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