Public Sector pay and the shame of food banks.

Address to TUC Congress in Liverpool, 8th September 2014 in support of a motion on Public Sector pay.
Colleagues, there are 5.7 million people employed in the public sector; 669,000 of these work, like me, in Scotland. We are the employees who staff some of the most vital services our communities need; the fire service, the police, teachers and school auxiliary staff and our NHS workers, to name but a few. Yet despite our significant contribution, public sector workers are paying the price of this government’s austerity policies.
Since the pay freeze of 2010, wages in real terms, have failed to keep pace with inflation and coupled with increased pension contributions, the rising cost of basic necessities such as food, housing and power, has caused genuine hardship for many public sector workers. The average public sector worker is now approximately £3700 a year worse off than they were four years ago.
Teachers in Scotland, in common with all UK public sector workers, saw their pay settlements decline to zero in 2011 and 2012, and compared to 2003, teachers in 2012 were 12% worse off in terms of their real wages.
Research shows public-sector salaries grew just 0.5% in the year to last December which is only a fraction of the 2.2% rise recorded for employees of Britain’s biggest 350 companies. We see no decline in the salaries, bonuses and expenses for bankers and their ilk at a time when almost a million workers in local government are paid below the minimum wage.
Inflation has decreased since the 3.9% it was in 2011 but even at the current rate of 1.7%, inflation outstrips the derisory 1% pay increase public sector workers accepted last year. The recent announcement that it would be another four years of the same level of pay restraint will mean an ever decreasing standard of living for many of our public sector colleagues, an increasing dependence on benefits and the reliance on food banks to feed families.
Congress, it is beyond shameful that in 21st century Britain food banks even exist. Shameful that families, neither feckless nor irresponsible as they are often labelled, but with one and often both parents working, cannot feed their children because of low wages.
Colleagues, I’m sure that in your place of work, just as in my staff room, statistics are not the topic of conversation but the impact of what they represent is. We talk about the rising prices every time we go food shopping; the cost of clothes and shoes for the children; the cost of childcare and travelling to work; how despite the insulting pay rise, we have less in our pay packet because of pension increases and what that means for the family budget.
Colleagues, this motion calls for the General Council to support the development of a common restorative pay claim across the public sector unions and coordinate a joint campaign of industrial action, including strike action, in support of workers in dispute with their employers.
We must recognise the strength of the organised working class: the strength of the collective action and unity of trade unionists.
We must stand and fight together to achieve the pay increases we have earned or we will continue to be, in the eyes of this government, either the undeserving poor, or the working poor.
Congress, we are neither of these things and we deserve a fair and just reward for our labour. I urge you to support the motion.

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