The Tory government has announced that almost 900,000 public sector workers are to receive a pay rise of between 2% and 3.1%, to reflect their “vital contribution” to society during the pandemic. But this is too little, too late; and it covers far too few workers.
In making the announcement, Rishi Sunak, the Tory chancellor, stated: “These past months have underlined what we always knew – that our public sector workers make a vital contribution to our country and that we can rely on them when we need them.”
Really? So, if the Tories always knew the vital contribution that public sector workers make, why have they relentlessly slashed their wages and jobs over the past decade?
Cut to the bone
Since 2010, over 400,000 public sector jobs have been cut as a result of Tory austerity measures. Those still in a job have suffered a decade of pay-restraint, amounting to real-wage cuts of several thousands of pounds a year.
The result was a sector at breaking point, even before the pandemic. These promised pay rises go nowhere near to making up the shortfall.
The Tories’ disastrous handling of the coronavirus crisis has seen their approval ratings plummet in the polls. Thousands of frontline public sector workers have died as a direct result of this government’s decisions. Millions more have been forced to risk their lives unnecessarily.
More bad polling news for Government from @YouGov as approval rating continues to fall.— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) June 10, 2020
In part down to increased criticism of how it has handled coronavirus crisis, but partly just an inevitable return to normality. pic.twitter.com/VlxLv2q5xd
If the Tories think they will make amends to these workers with this paltry pay rise, they can think again.
The Tories now see fit to give a pay rise to senior civil servants and the judiciary. But notably missing from the list of recipients are nurses, care workers, and local government employees – that is, many of those on the frontline of the pandemic, who are daily risking their lives.
And of course the pay rise won’t cover the millions of outsourced workers, such as waste collectors, carers, or cleaners. Clearly, to the Tories, some ‘essential’ workers are more essential than others. As usual the low paid get nothing.
Things are even worse in the private sector. Overall, there has been no real income growth over the last 12 years, as a lasting result of the crisis of capitalism since 2008.
Since the pandemic hit, real incomes have collapsed. The Resolution Foundation calculates that typical household incomes have fallen by 4.5% compared to a year ago. And this is before the full impact of the crisis hits, with unemployment set to skyrocket.
As with all crises under class society, the rich and powerful are attempting to place the burden onto the shoulders of everyone but themselves. Whilst the bulk of the working class are facing wage cuts and austerity, a layer of the wealthy elite are getting richer and richer.
It is time for the labour movement to stand up and say: enough is enough! The wealth exists in society for all to live a decent life, but it is in the wrong hands. We say: make the bosses pay for the crisis!
A letter from a junior doctor
Following Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a paltry pay-rise for some public sector workers, and your excellent article in the previous issue of Socialist Appeal, I’d like to give my personal perspective.
I am a newly qualified junior doctor who spent some time during lockdown volunteering at a local hospital. Hospitals are very complex organisations, with an army of workers working long and tiring hours to deliver excellent healthcare to their patients. The public often praises the doctors and the nurses, which is undoubtedly fair. But we should also recognise the effort of other hospital workers: porters, therapists, the cleaning staff, healthcare assistants, ward clerks, catering staff, hospital security,physician associates, lab staff and so on. They are vital to the running of the NHS, all facing a much heavier workload during the pandemic.
Not only has Sunak not provided these exhausted workers with the same pay rise as more senior doctors. Instead, they’ve faced pay freezes and worse working conditions, not to mention the university debt they carry from the moment they qualify. But then again, what do you expect from a party in bed with private healthcare? The Tory government deciding the NHS budget is truly a case of the fox guarding the hen house.
The NHS is facing death by a thousand cuts. From PFI debt to austerity, the Tories have declared war on our right to free healthcare, and those who provide it. It’s not enough to kick them out at the next election. We need action. We need the NHS under workers’ control, not suit-clad bureaucrats and Tory-friendly parasites. Wages should be decided democratically, and funding planned nationally. This should be fought for by the unions and the Labour Party. We need thousands more nurses and doctors, educated for free and with vastly better working conditions.
Now is not the time for handwringing. Every day, patients and hospital workers suffer because of the anarchy and greed inherent in capitalism. We owe it to those who sacrificed their lives on the frontline, to organise and fight for radical change.
An anonymous Junior Doctor