Scottish Budget: Fair Pay for Fair Work?

imageMost news commentators on Scottish budget day will focus on capital programmes, investment, etc repeating spin over which big projects and economic sectors are to gain from the careful crafting of Barnett Formula, departmental spending limits and SNP Manifesto commitments and compromises.

Little attention will be paid to the parallel announcement that determines the livelihoods, dignity and living standards of tens of thousands of workers over the next year.

What use are new devolved tax powers if the Scottish Government are not prepared to use them to redistribute wealth from the richest to the poorest, or to invest in public services shaved to the bone by austerity driven cuts.

Last year, in demanding Fair Pay, PCS members provided testimonials to politicians on their experience of sustained below inflation pay awards, in which the average worker is now worse off in real terms than they were in 2010. Many from amongst the white collar civil servants that support Ministers told us that to make ends meet they had downsized the quality of their food and clothing shopping, given up family holidays, nights out and cars, been forced to turn down heating, stop funding repairs to their homes and cancelling pet insurance

A year on, and no real prospect of of an end to austerity pay capping, it seems even more of our members are living hand-to-mouth. There is something deeply troubling when increasing numbers of Scottish civil servants are reporting debt, reliance on food banks and in one recent case, destitution.

When Derek Mackay stands up in the Scottish Parliament to move his first draft budget as Cabinet Secretary for Finance, he will be speaking to 129 MSPs whose pay settlement for 2017 has just been agreed at a level in excess of the pay cap that public sector workers are expected to endure. As he addresses the Chamber, his officials will ping out electronic communiques of Scottish public sector pay policy for 2017-18 to the 46 employers of central government staff. This annual policy determines the envelope within which the Scottish Government, departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies spread across Scotland will set their staff pay remits.

Whenever we as trade unionists seek to make representations on our members demands for Fair Pay, SNP government politicians and their supporters snap that these workers should be grateful for the Fair Work agenda of the Scottish Government and for their protection under the no compulsory redundancy guarantee that our union negotiated with Alex Salmond back in 2008. Yet the reality is that Fair Work cannot be abstracted from Fair Pay. Our demand is simply for dignity not drudgery.

Austerity pay is a political choice. The Tory Chancellor, Hammond was clear in his Autumn statement about the choice he has made – public sector workers must continue to pay the price of austerity beyond 2020. Sturgeon, Mackay and their supporters fudge the issue by pretending that their hands are tied. They are not. Since the very beginning of devolution in 1999, the determination of pay policy has been devolved to the Scottish Government. Thus, 17 years on from the power and eight years under the watch of the self-declared anti-austerity party, Scottish public sector workers are right to expect a better offer from the SNP than the same old Tory austerity pay.

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