Public Service Workers Make the Difference
Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary for Public Services
Last Thursday’s election disproved almost every prediction going, but at GMB we can honestly say we got one thing right – underpaid public sector workers did make the difference.
It could have been so different. I don’t often agree with Theresa May. But she was spot on when she said last year that:
‘Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.’
Fine words. But what followed to help over five million public sector workers? Nothing. The cap that has kept their pay below inflation since 2010 stayed in place.
No wonder she came unstuck last week. You can’t claim to support public service while you run down public servants. You can’t say you are plotting a new course while pushing through an even worse pinch to public sector wages than Thatcher and Major.
For me, the defining moment of the campaign will always be the Prime Minister’s failure to answer the nurse who had not had pay rise for seven years. Does anyone really imagine that the Tories can fight a second general election promising to see through the full decade of real-terms pay cuts?
We warned that public sectors staff could decide the election, and new figures released by GMB show that public sector workers outstripped the Tories’ majority in 80% of the seats they lost.
So if the election was a vote for investment in public services, the pay cap must be one of the first austerity policies to go.
Since last Thursday Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, has said that ‘the consensus on public-sector pay will have to be revised.’ Theresa May’s new Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell has blamed the election result on the pay freeze. May herself admitted that she hadn’t done enough to ‘reassure public sector workers.’
Let’s get real. Too many public sector workers are stressed, overworked, squeezed by pension contribution hikes, at risk of job cuts – and, yes, underpaid. They need fair compensation to catch-up with almost a decade of cuts to their living standards, which is why the joint local government and school support staff unions are demanding a pay award of at least 5 per cent.
Since 2010 the Conservatives have thought they could squeeze public sector workers till the pips squeaked. No more. Whether it’s through quiet contributions every day, or the heroism of our emergency services during moments of national tragedy, the public sector has proved its worth.
So enough is enough. I am proud that GMB has made ending the pay pinch its flagship public sector campaign. The 1 per cent cap is sucking the lifeblood out of our public services. It’s time to kill this vampiric policy once and for all.