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Freeze Pay? No Way!

“We clapped all frontline workers during lockdown who kept us going and they must not pay the price of the pandemic with more Tory austerity.”

Ian Byrne MP

By the Labour Assembly Against Austerity Team

Wednesday’s one year Spending Review announcement is set to reinstate a public sector pay freeze, punishing over five million key workers as the government seeks to reduce its spending deficit.

Labour needs to clearly show it is on the side of public sector workers and stand clearly against the Tory plans. The Labour Party’s responsibility is to prevent this pay freeze being imposed, with a parliamentary strategy working hand-in-glove with the trade unions and anti-cuts movement across the country.

The pay freeze would resurrect a Tory policy started ten years ago in 2011 when David Cameron’s government forced down public workers pay to cover the cost of Gordon Brown’s bank bailout during the financial crash.

The Tory pay freeze from 2011-2013 and 1% pay cap from 2013-2018 has meant average earnings for public sector workers have not yet returned to pre-crash levels.

The IFS recently reported that public sector earnings are today 2.5% lower on average than at the start of 2010 and well below what would have been expected prior to the recession.

The reality of this is that people who have been forced to live with less to spend for a full decade – teachers, care workers, refuse collectors, firefighters – may now be forced to cut back spending further just as the coronavirus pandemic has forced those on the lowest incomes into greater poverty.

The trade unions have made clear their opposition to the pay freeze.

The TUC’s Frances O’Grady said, ‘Freezing the pay of millions of key workers is no way to reward their service. The very least they deserve for getting us through this crisis is a proper pay rise.’

Unite the Union’s Gail Cartmail said, ‘To be told now that they are going to have to bear the cost of this 2nd crisis really is a kick in the teeth’. While Howard Beckett said, ‘The fight now is for wealth to pay for this crisis not workers pay and conditions.’

Kevin Courtney of the National Education Union said, ‘Today’s announcement is an attack on all working people.’

And PCS’s Mark Serwotka, said, ‘A public sector pay freeze, which chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce next week, is a grave insult to millions of hard-working government workers whose dedication has kept vital services running during the pandemic.’

More than ever we need a Labour Party that will fight to defend the incomes of those living with the least, not only because it should be the party’s priority to fight poverty and stand up for their living standards, but because it is also in the interests of the wider economy.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party stood shoulder-to-shoulder with trade unions and pledged in the 2017 election to ‘End the Public Sector Pay Cap – because public sector workers deserve a pay rise after years of falling wages.’

The challenge now is to ensure the Labour Party stands against this proposed pay freeze, and to amplify the voices of those Labour MPs standing up on this issue.

These included former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who said, ‘Here we go again. Same old Tories. Sunak has decided it will be working people who will pay for this crisis with austerity & wage freezes just like last time’.

And Rebecca Long-Bailey, said, ‘Why is Rishi Sunak entertaining this economically destructive behaviour again? Even the IMF concluded in 2016 that austerity does more harm than good to the economy. This is no way to thank essential workers who have kept us going in this pandemic.’

Liverpool’s new MP Ian Byrne said, ‘We clapped all frontline workers during lockdown who kept us going and they must not pay the price of the pandemic with more Tory austerity.’

Whilst new Coventry MP, Zarah Sultana, said, ‘Let’s get this straight. The Tories claim we can’t afford a pay rise for working people, but we can afford £16.5 billion extra on warfare, a pay rise for MPs, and fortunes in dodgy covid contracts to their Tory mates? It’s a total con.’

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