Public sector pay freeze prediction sparks industrial action warning

The Government is facing the threat of industrial action if it imposes a cap on the pay of millions of public sector workers.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly preparing to announce a limit on the pay of millions of council staff, civil servants, teachers, police and other public servants when he unveils his spending review next week.

Frontline NHS doctors and nurses are expected to be exempt from any cap in recognition of their work during the coronavirus crisis.

Unions reacted angrily to the prospect of a wage freeze after such a tumultuous year, with one saying industrial action could not be ruled out.

The Treasury said it did not comment on speculation, but said public sector pay restraint was mentioned by Mr Sunak in July when the spending review was launched.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: "Civil servants along with millions of other public sector workers have kept the country running throughout this pandemic, and the last thing they deserve is another pay freeze.

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Pictures of the week: November 15 - 21
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Pictures of the week: November 15 - 21
People walk in the rain past Christmas decorations in central London on November 20, 2020, as life under a second lockdown continues in England. - The current lockdown in England has shuttered restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops and services until December 2, with hopes business could resume in time for Christmas. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
LEIGH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Manchester United goalkeeper Emily Ramsey celebrates with team mates Millie Turner and Jackie Groenen after winning the penalty shoot out at the FA Women's Continental League Cup match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Leigh Sports Village on November 19, 2020 in Leigh, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Visionhaus)
View of a closed exit on London Underground as one way system is adopted. Empty trains, Empty platforms and Empty tunnels on the London Underground as the Second Covid-19 Lockdown in England severely reduce travel in the capital. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
People walk in the rain past Christmas decorations in central London on November 20, 2020, as life under a second lockdown continues in England. - The current lockdown in England has shuttered restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops and services until December 2, with hopes business could resume in time for Christmas. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Shoppers walk past black Friday sale posters in the centre of Cardiff where shops are open and people are out in numbers taking advantage of buying nonessential items in the run-up to Christmas. Restrictions across Wales have been relaxed following a two-week "firebreak" lockdown. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
PlayStation symbols are used on the Oxford Circus Tube station platforms. Signs at London's Oxford Circus Underground entrances have been transformed into Sony PlayStation Symbols and several Tube stations have been renamed for 48 hours to mark the launch of the new PlayStation 5. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A pedestrian walks past Christmas shop decorations in Mayfair during a second lockdown in London, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Businesses that have been forced to shut are hoping they will be able to reopen to salvage something of the crucial holiday shopping season. The government has been reluctant to say what restrictions will be in place for any particular area when the lockdown ends and says it's still too early to see how the lockdown has worked. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Runners kick up the ground as they round a bend at Wincanton Racecourse, southwest England, Thursday Nov. 19, 2020. Many areas of England have suffered heavy rainfall over recent days. (Alan Crowhurst/PA via AP)
A christmas tree lines the route through the arcade. London's Luxury Shopping destination, the Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly, now has its usual high quality Christmas decorations on display, despite being in lockdown, none of its stores can currently be opened. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
EDITORIAL USE ONLY Specially designed artwork is unveiled at Lancaster Gate station, which has been transformed into Ratchet and Clankaster Gate to celebrate the UK launch of PlayStation 5, on Thursday, as PlayStation UK teams up with Transport for London for a 48-hour takeover.
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks on the empty Millennium Bridge with City of London in the background. Most places and businesses have closed as the second month-long national lockdown takes hold in England. (Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 18: Tottenham Hotspur team look on during the penalty shoot out during the FA Women's Continental League Cup match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Meadow Park on November 18, 2020 in Borehamwood, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
London Underground signs at Oxford Circus have been transformed into Sony PlayStation Symbols to celebrate the release of the brand new PlayStation 5 on the 19th of November 2020. (Photo by Brett Cove / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Vegetation grows between unused black cabs parked in a large area of farmland in Epping Forest, which is being rented by GB Taxi Services to store their large fleet of London taxis that are no longer being used due to a severe drop in demand as coronavirus restrictions continue to reduce travel and office working. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
People from Centre for Bio-ethical Reform UK (CBR UK), launching a new campaign focusing on Health Secretary Matt Hancock entitled #HancocksHealthcare outside Downing Street, London.
A queue of black cabs outside Victoria Station, London. London taxi drivers are facing long waits for a single fare after the industry has seen a severe drop in demand as coronavirus restrictions continue to reduce travel and office working. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
Workers put up Christmas lights in George Square in Glasgow. Parts of the west of Scotland could move into Level 4 restrictions later this week, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to announce her decision later today. Under the toughest restrictions, non-essential shops will be closed, along with bars, restaurants, hairdressers and visitor attractions, whilst schools remain open (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images)
Forestry England works supervisor Steve Orton works on a felled 43ft Sitka Spruce tree in Northumberland's Kielder Forest. The 30 year old spruce was selected from amongst the over 150 million trees in Kielder Forest to stand in Parliament Square, London, this Christmas. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
Members of the public on Buchanan Street in Glasgow. Parts of the west of Scotland could move into Level 4 restrictions later this week, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to announce her decision later today. Under the toughest restrictions, non-essential shops will be closed, along with bars, restaurants, hairdressers and visitor attractions, whilst schools remain open (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images)
CARDIFF, WALES, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 17, 2020 - A Christmas fairground is pictured in the process of being assembled outside Cardiff Castle ahead of its opening on Thursday 19th November. PHOTOGRAPH BY Mark Hawkins / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Mark Hawkins/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon prepares to make a statement on the coronavirus pandemic to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Tuesday Nov. 17, 2020. Scotland's 11 of its 32 local authorities, including Glasgow, will be placed into its highest tier of coronavirus restrictions. The restrictions are set to run from Friday until Dec. 11. (Russell Cheyne/PA via AP)
Funeral director Andrew Atkins wears PPE as he disinfects a hearse at Full Circle Funerals in Bramley, Leeds, who works alongside funeral director Sarah Jones, who is preparing for a second wave of Covid-related deaths, and has used the experiences of professionals in the industry to create a guide to help support bereaved people. (Photo by Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)
Russia's Daniil Medvedev returns against Germany's Alexander Zverev in their men's singles round-robin match on day two of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London on November 16, 2020. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
ESSEX - NOVEMBER 16: A sign displays social distancing measures on a train station platform on November 16, 2020 in Essex, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
A woman walks past a Hollister Store. (Photo by Michael McNerney / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
DUNFERMLINE, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 16: A grey squirrel sits on a tree root in Pittencrieff Park, on November 16, 2020 in Dunfermline, Scotland. (Photo by Ken Jack/Getty Images)
The Regent Street Christmas lights entitled 'The Spirit of Christmas' stand illuminated after being switched on yesterday without a ceremony as shops on the street lie temporarily closed due to England's second coronavirus lockdown, in London, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. This week saw Britain on Wednesday become the fifth country in the world to record more than 50,000 coronavirus-related deaths and on Thursday to record 33,470 people testing positive for COVID-19, the highest daily number of new cases since the virus first struck. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Brighton and Hove Albion's Felicity Gibbons, left, and West Ham United's Alisha Lehmann are caught in sunlight, competing for a header during their Women's Super League soccer match at Chigwell Construction Stadium, in London, Sunday Nov. 15, 2020. (Mike Egerton/PA via AP)
CWMBRAN, WALES - NOVEMBER 16: A general view of the early morning start at the Grange University Hospital, where the photographer works transporting non-emergency patients, on November 13, 2020 in Cwmbran, Wales. The £350m hospital will provide services including accident and emergency, intensive care and major surgery to patients living across Gwent and south Powys in South Wales. It has opened 4 months ahead of schedule, as the NHS faces a second wave of coronavirus cases. (Photo by Huw Fairclough/Getty Images)
Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies of Germany, in action against Croatia's Nikola Mektic and Netherland's Wesley Koolhof, during their doubles match on day one of the ATP Finals tennis championship at The O2 Arena, London, Sunday Nov. 15, 2020. (John Walton/PA via AP)
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"Our members have been providing universal credit, collecting tax, securing our borders and prisons in this unprecedented pandemic and have already suffered 10 years of pay restraint.

"Private companies have been allowed to secure lucrative Covid contracts to the tune of £17bn, yet ministers are not prepared to reward their own staff for all the incredible work they have done this year.?

"If Rishi Sunak fails to pay public sector workers properly, there will be widespread anger and industrial action cannot be ruled out."

Rehana Azam, national officer of the GMB union said: "We will not stand by and allow public sectors workers to pay for this crisis with new austerity and a morale-sapping wage freeze. This is a kick in the teeth for those who have been fighting the pandemic.

"Workers have lost friends and loved ones. The crisis is still raging. Now they're being kicked while they're down."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "A pay freeze would be a bitter pill for care workers, refuse collectors, emergency workers and all the key workers in the public sector who have helped keep the country going through this pandemic.

"Freezing their pay is no way to reward key workers for their service. Unions will fight for the proper pay rise they have earned. Working people must not bear the burden of the crisis."

A new report by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) said private sector workers had suffered far more from the economic impact of the disease.

UK national debt.
(PA Graphics)

The centre-right think tank said measures were needed to ensure the labour market was not unfairly weighted towards the public sector.

It said that a three-year pay freeze across the public sector could save up to £23 billion, helping to plug the hole in the public finances opened up by the pandemic.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said a new pay cap would be a "cruel body blow" to NHS staff not on the frontline.

"Key workers across ​all public services remain at the heart of the fight against Covid," he said.

"The Government must do what's right next week and announce the wage rise ​all staff have more than earned.

"Anything less risks destroying morale when the entire country is counting on them."

Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said: "After a decade of pay austerity in the public sector which has seen pay increases lag behind inflation and the private sector, a further pay freeze across the public sector will be seen as an insult and have a devastating impact.

"At a time when the economy urgently needs demand and a level of confidence, to arbitrarily rule out even modest increases is economically illiterate."

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: "Firefighters have gone above and beyond to respond to the pandemic, from delivering vital supplies, to driving ambulances and moving the bodies of the deceased, but a decade of pay restraint has left them poorer today than they were before the global financial crash.

"It's brutally unfair to leave key workers to wade through the media rumour mill for answers about their livelihoods.

"Further attacks on pay would show utter contempt for working people. Rishi Sunak needs to come out and reject those calling for public sector pay restraint."

Dame Donna Kinnair, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Nursing staff have told the Government the level of pay rise they need this year.

"Nursing staff across the whole of the health and care system, from hospitals to social care, have gone above and beyond in the last year and all we have heard from the Chancellor is the sound of clapping in Downing Street.

"Now he must make good on this applause and give nursing staff the pay that finally recognises their skill, dedication and professionalism."

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: "Workers on the Covid front line have kept our country going through this pandemic. Thousands of them have lost their lives in the process.

"Now, in the middle of a deadly second wave, the Chancellor wants to freeze their pay.

"This is the irresponsible choice to make for the economy. Freezing pay will leave people worried about making ends meet, that means they'll cut back on spending and the economy will take longer to recover."

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