Strikes: No further pay rises for public sector, minister suggests

 (Jeremy Selwyn)
(Jeremy Selwyn)

The Government will not make any further pay offers to public sector workers, the Education Secretary suggested on Wednesday, amid the biggest walkout in a decade.

Gillian Keegan said it would not be “economically sensible” to offer wage hikes to transport, education and health workers who are staging strikes across the country this month.

On Wednesday up to half-a-million civil servants, teachers and train drivers took part in simultaneous industrial action over pay after negotiations with the Government and employers broke down.

Ms Keegan told the BBC: “We’re realistic about what we need to do, which is to halve inflation.

“We need to get rid of this problem for everybody, not just for those people who are striking.

“All the Secretaries of State are meeting, I know my colleagues in transport and in health are very open, but what we cannot do is give inflation busting pay rises to one part of the workforce and make inflation worse for everybody.

“That’s not an economically sensible thing to do.”

Weekly wages in the public sector grew by an average 3.9 per cent in November 2022 compared with the previous year, while in the private sector pay packets increased by an average of 7.2 per cent

Unions have warned that teachers are becoming increasingly unable to pay for basic costs, including travel to work and heating, and in some cases have turned to food banks.

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General-Secretary of the National Education Union, said it was a “toxic combination” of low wages and high workload which was forcing teachers out of the profession.

“We have teachers who are worried about whether they can put petrol in their cars to drive to work,” she said.

“We’ve got teachers who work the most unpaid overtime of any profession.

“Working weeks, which the government’s own research shows is the same as 55 to 60 hours a week, doing part time jobs at the weekend to make ends meet.

“And it’s that excessive and intensive workload, combined with pay, which if you take CPI inflation has decreased by 13 per cent for teachers, which is one of the biggest decreases of all professional groups.

“When you’ve got that combination it’s toxic and that leads to a third of teachers leaving within five years of qualification. No educational system can support that rate of leaving.”

Ms Keegan said it was “not credible” that teachers were using food banks regularly.

“The Trussell Trust itself says that only 15 per cent of people need more than three food vouchers a year, and they’re normally people who then get flagged... I think the food banks are there for a reason, but they’re not, being used widely, I would imagine by the profession.”