27 November, 2020
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced, in what many may see as a brave move given the current stresses on the public sector, that there will be a pay freeze on public sector workers. An expenditure review has been conducted resulting in a pay freeze for civil servants, teachers, police, firefighters, the armed forces, and council staff. It excludes frontline NHS workers and lower paid workers, but for other public sector workers pay rises will be paused. There is no detail on how long the pay freeze will remain in place yet.
The Treasury has estimated that the pay announcement will directly affect 1.3 million workers, but this forms less than 25% of the total number of 5.5 million in the public sector. Despite the fact that only a low percentage of workers are estimated to be affected, the move has understandably attracted a considerable degree of criticism. The GMB union has pointed out that the freeze will be applicable to those public bodies that have faced considerable risk during the ongoing pandemic.
The government has previously attempted to introduce a public sector pay cap which was unsuccessful due to wide uproar and strike action. There's the risk that similar action could arise following this pay freeze, with those affected potentially going on strike in protest at the announcement. The effects that COVID-19 has had on the public sector bodies is evidently hugely negative and it has been placed under inordinate strain. They will continue to be affected in this way as the pandemic continues, and the announcement will potentially be seen as a lack of recognition and support causing an increased risk of unrest. This may be exacerbated when the inevitable sector funding cuts cone into fruition and more and more financial cut backs are made by the government due to the effects of the global pandemic. Restructuring and cost saving may become even more necessary for many public bodies. The drive towards flexible working may assist many in this respect but it can be a contentious and risky area. Our dedicated Public Sector Employment and HR team at Forbes have considerable expertise advising in relation to this area.