Union anger over Rishi Sunak's public sector pay freeze for Harrogate council workers

A trade union representing council workers in Harrogate has reacted furiously after the government imposed a pay freeze on swathes of state staff.

Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 4:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 4:16 pm
David Houlgate, branch secretary at Unison Harrogate, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

David Houlgate, branch secretary at Unison Harrogate, said the pay freeze announced last week will hit public sector workers when "they have never been in more demand than they are now" during the coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing the changes, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said a million NHS staff will get pay rises next year and some low-earners will also receive a £250 increase, but he added all other public sector wages were being "paused".

This includes council staff, civil servants, teachers, police, firefighters and the armed forces.

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In his spending review, Mr Sunak highlighted a disparity between public and private sector wages, adding he "cannot justify a significant, across-the-board" pay increase for all state staff when millions of jobs had been lost in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.

However, Mr Houlgate has accused the government of pitching the public and private sectors against each other in a comparison which he said "simply won’t do in the face of the health and economic crisis that the country faces."

He 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.

"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."

Mr Houlgate said the pay pause will equate to about £520 less next year for a nursery nurse and £510 less for a local government admin officer when inflation is taken into account.

He added: "Even where there are exceptions to the pay pause, such as the £250 per year promised to those earning less than £24k, it's hardly fair reward for the incredible work people are doing during the pandemic.

"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 into 2021.”

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter