Teachers’ pay deal gives unions room for manoeuvre

What are we to make of schools secretary Ed Balls’ announcement that teachers will receive a 2.45% pay rise this year?

The award is the first of the government’s controversial three-year pay deals, and jars with prime minister Gordon Brown’s insistence that all public sector awards – including those for MPs – would be pegged at 2%.

The government has incurred the wrath of police officers by not backdating their pay deal, and last year, nurses and other NHS workers grudgingly accepted a staged pay rise. Teachers’ unions are complaining that this deal will reduce living standards for their members and lead to more retention problems.

So what does all this mean? That teachers are more valuable than police officers and nurses? That the government will now acquiesce with the recommendations of the various salary review bodies?

What the teachers’ deal does show is that there is some room for manoeuvre for unions. It might not be the 6% deal that Unison is demanding for local government workers, or the 4% rise wanted for civil servants, but there is a little flexibility in the system. Going forward, this might make the lives of public sector HR directors a little less stressful than they might have been.

What is apparent is that the government is rapidly diminishing any goodwill towards it that is left among public sector workers. People don’t become teachers, nurses or police officers for the money they do so because they feel it’s a vocation, and they are doing work that helps others. But they still need to pay the bills and afford to live.

Plus, every one of these disgruntled workers in the public sector – up to six million of them – is a potential voter. When fixing pay levels for the next three years, the government would do well to remember that.

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