Last week we saw some movement from Scottish Ministers on a living wage for contract workers delivering government services. PCS members in the National Museums of Scotland shop in particular can now expect the same access to the living wage enjoyed by their colleagues.
On the broader front, it remains true that Britain needs a pay rise, and in spite of some progress with Scottish Ministers, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) demands that Scotland needs fair pay.
The British TUC’s play on the title of a popular TV show to make the case for decent pay is not just a pun, it signals the first opportunity since the high point of the N30 2011 pensions march for the movement to mobilise behind the clarion call for fair pay.
A PCS pamphlet over a year ago entitled “Britain needs a pay rise” explored the dramatic effects on the UK economy caused by the falling value of wages. We found, the real value of UK pay has fallen by 7% since 2008. By the end of 2012, UK wages were over £50 billion a year lower than in 2008. And by 2015, the real value of public sector take-home pay will fall by £7 billion. Wage reduction has had a knock-on effect on the real terms fall in consumer demand of 5%, to a level lower than that in 2001. Sadly, there is no reason to believe that a year on, the outlook is any brighter for workers across Britain.
In the run up to the Scottish referendum some indy supporters may feel uncomfortable with the demand that Britain needs a pay rise, but fortunately trade unionists, focus on workers and class unity not merely viewing the world through heather-tinted spectacles. The demand that Scotland needs fair pay, must also be our response to the ongoing pay restraint imposed on the Scottish government’s own workforce when they have devolved control over public sector pay and could, with political will, take a different approach to austerity pay punishment doled out by the UK government on public sector workers.
Whether pay freezes or caps are imposed by George Osborne or John Swinney, civil servants have suffered years of pay decline. These real terms cuts are biting into the quality of lives of our members and their families. Median pay in the civil service is 4.4% lower than in the private sector, with lower grades 8% to 10% behind direct private sector comparators.
I am proud that through the campaigning of our members, PCS negotiated with Scottish Ministers a no compulsory redundancy guarantee, protecting 20,000 employees, in place since 2008. But we have never traded pay for jobs.
Our secure Scottish living wage for all Scottish Government staff is attributable to PCS demands on Ministers. Salaries of some of our lowest paid members have been raised to a level of decency as a result of our pressure to do the right thing. No longer are some of our key employers embarrassed into emergency payments to ensure that its staff receive their legal entitlement to the national minimum wage. And we have now secured an end to a two tier workforce in the national museums, on the living wage at least.
However welcome for the lowest paid, a living wage in itself does not mitigate against the overall attack on public sector pay levels which our members have suffered, and therefore we will fight on for fair pay for all.
We welcome the assurances given by Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister and Alex Salmond, first minister, that should Scotland vote for independence, both the no compulsory redundancy guarantee and the Scottish living wage will be extended to the remaining 30,000 civil servants currently delivering UK public services in Scotland. However, our welcome comes with a caveat – that public sector pay in general will be tackled, returned to 2008 levels and that Scotland deserves a pay rise.
PCS joined forces with the STUC, Unite, Unison and the Scottish living wage campaign to call for for an extension of this guarantee to workers delivering public services on Scottish Government contracts in the Procurement legislation currently going through the Scottish Parliament. Living wage aiside, It remains extremely disappointing that the SNP MSPs voted down all of the amendments put forward on blacklisting, equalities, fair trade and trade union rights that would provide better use of public money and these most vulnerable of workers.
Unfortunately, Labour, Lib Dems, Tories and SNP are all committed to austerity budgets for the foreseeable future. On 19 September, Scottish workers will still require the leadership of our movement to mobilise class forces across this land to make the demands because whatever the outcome of the referendum, Britain will still need a pay rise, and Scotland will still deserve fair pay.