Public sector pay lower than a decade ago, but ‘journey of restoration’ vowed

Public sector workers in Scotland are paid less than they were a decade ago in real terms, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has said.

He said while the Scottish Government is on a “journey of restoration of public sector pay”, wages are still lower than they were 10 years ago.

He blamed the recession and “UK austerity” for the real terms decline in wages, as he accepted there had been a “trade-off” between salary rises and staffing levels.

Current Scottish public sector wage policy has already “departed from the 1% pay cap” which was previously imposed, he said.

With smaller pay rises for higher earners set out as part of the new policy, Mr Mackay insisted the measures are “fair”.

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But Green co-convener Patrick Harvie claimed Scotland is “at a point where the loss of public sector pay has become intolerable and unacceptable”.

He pressed Mr Mackay on the issue at Holyrood’s Finance Committee, saying: “I’m questioning whether the phrase ‘journey of restoration of public sector pay’ is strictly accurate. It would be wrong to give a false expectation to people working in the public sector.”

He asked the Finance Secretary: “Do you accept that public sector pay in Scotland remains lower than it was in real terms 10 years ago?”

Mr Mackay responded: “Yes, as a consequence of the recession and UK austerity, clearly we would want to go further but equally I don’t want to make people compulsorily redundant.

“I think it’s fair to say there has been a trade-off in maintaining head count and not making people redundant, so we have been employing more people, while there has been pay restraint, that has been well understood.

“I think there has been pay restraint in the private sector as well, but for the public sector we have been trying to protect the workforce and that journey of restoration is departing from the 1% pay cap.”

Current Scottish Government public sector pay policy allows for a rise of 3% for workers earning up to £36,500, while those on salaries of up to £80,000 receive 2%.

But with teachers receiving a 13% rise over three years, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser questioned whether the Government has a pay policy at all.

He asked the minister: “Do you really have a public sector pay policy or are you just making it up as you go along?”

Mr Mackay told him that while the policy “acts a guide”, different groups of workers are entitled to their own pay negotiations “and that is why there can be departure from the public sector pay policy”.