As this most terrible of all years draws to a close Local Government workers and other public sector workers have been hit with a double whammy as the Government attacks their pensions and freezes their pay at a time when they have never been in more demand than they are now.
Speaking for UNISON, Harrogate Local Government Branch Secretary David Houlgate said:
This has been a truly terrible year due to the Covid-19 pandemic but throughout it Council workers have stepped up to the plate delivering front line services such as refuse and recycling, street cleaning as well as issuing grants to businesses, ensuring Covid-19 rules are followed and supporting the most vulnerable in society. They’ve done it at increased risk to themselves due to the nature of the pandemic.
We’ve said it before and we will never tire of saying it but they are a credit to themselves and the Council they work for. This has been a year when public services have been more needed than ever before and the public support our members have had has been a real boon to their morale.
But whilst these key workers have been doing all this, the Government has been introducing punitive changes to their pensions to the extent that even modest statutory redundancy payments are now at risk and at a time when jobs will inevitably come under threat. And this is not about high earners but all Council staff, including the lowest paid employees, some of whom are earning less than the Real Living Wage.
On the back of that is the grim reality of a real-terms pay cut next year and in to 2022.
Once inflation is taken into account, the chancellor’s announcement last week of an arbitrary pay pause means about £520 less next year for a nursery nurse and £510 less a year for a local government admin officer.
Even where there are exceptions to the pay pause, such as the £250 per year promised to those earning less than £24k, its hardly fair reward for the incredible work people are doing during the pandemic.
Sadly, some jobs are being lost in the private sector which is a real tragedy but pitching public vs private simply won’t do in the face of the health and economic crisis that the country faces. Households are not exclusively one or the other and a public sector employee may be the only income a household has during these difficult times.
So getting us through, will require a fully staffed, properly paid public service workforce – as well as measures to revive the private sector and get people back to work.
The two work together. Unity and not division is what is needed – and the recognition that extra money in pockets gets spent locally in the thousands of ailing shops and leisure, arts and hospitality venues that need to be saved.
The Government argues that there is no alternative; that the only way to get public finances in order is to pile the costs onto the shoulders of public sector workers.
But there are always alternatives and there are always choices. Recent research by Public Services International, commissioned by UNISON, shows that transnational corporations and wealthy individuals avoid paying close to £30bn in taxes a year.
Going forward, we are sure our members will continue to step up to the plate and we know that the public will continue to value and support them as we move in to 2021.