Theresa May slammed union threats of illegal strikes today as she vowed ‘greater flexibility’ on public sector pay – but warned the government must balance the books.
The Prime Minister laid into Unite chief Len McCluskey for saying he was ready to break the law and cripple public services to force big wage rises.
She also swiped at Jeremy Corbyn and senior Labour figures for refusing to criticise the prospect of illegal industrial action.
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The Prime Minister laid into Unite chief Len McCluskey at PMQs today for saying he was ready to break the law and cripple public services to force big wage rises
Mrs May swiped at Jeremy Corbyn (pictured in the Commons today) and senior Labour figures for refusing to criticise the prospect of illegal industrial action
Mrs May and the Labour leader were engaged in bitter exchanges at PMQs today
In bitter exchanges with Mr Corbyn at PMQs, Mrs May confirmed that the government is dropping the across-the-board 1 per cent limit on rises for state workers, which has been in place since 2013.
But she warned that ministers had to be ‘fair’ to taxpayers and ensure that jobs were not lost.
Mr McCluskey, a key ally of Mr Corbyn, compared himself to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela last night as his fellow union barons threatened a wave of illegal strikes.
The hard-Left leader of Unite sparked outrage by suggesting that unlawful industrial action was no different to landmark campaigns for civil rights.
Despite ministers scrapping the 1 per cent public sector pay cap yesterday, he repeatedly refused to rule out agitating for above-inflation rises.
Mr McCluskey suggested unions had a duty to defy a legal requirement for strike action to be approved by a ballot of more than 50 per cent, saying the threshold was ‘artificial’.
‘If that means we are outside the law, then so be it,’ he said.
Two other unions – the PCS, which represents civil servants, and the GMB general union – also refused to rule out unlawful action yesterday.
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn today repeatedly refused to criticise the idea of unions staging illegal strikes.
‘We are not at that stage. The important thing is to lift the pay cap,’ the spokesman said.
Pressed again on whether Mr Corbyn would back an illegal strike, the spokesman added: ‘We have the most restrictive trade union legislation in the western world. That has been made more so by the Trade Union Act.
‘No such strike has been called. Nobody wants to see industrial action on this issue.’
The source said Mr Corbyn supported citizens respecting the law generally but that Labour would repeal the Trade Union Act if in Government.
Shadow minister Tracy Brabin went further, telling BBC Radio 4’s World at One that Mr McCluskey was ‘probably right’ to make the threat.
Yesterday shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon also dodged saying unions should obey the law.
Jeremy Corbyn addressed the TUC conference in Brighton yesterday. The Labour leader’s spokesman today repeatedly refused to condemn the threat by Mr McCluskey (pictured right at the conference) to hold illegal strikes
The government announced yesterday that police would get a 1 per cent rise plus a 1 per cent no-consolidated bonus this year, while prison staff are in line for 1.7 per cent.
But speaking at PMQs today, Mr Corbyn said that with inflation running at 2.9 per cent the pay rises on offer amounted to a pay cut in real terms.
He added: ‘Anything less means that dedicated public servants are worse off again and they’ve been made worse off every year for the past seven years.
‘Yesterday the Prison Officers’ Association weren’t impressed either with the 1.7% offer, saying it’s a pay cut, it’s not acceptable.
‘We discovered that they are being offered, the police as well, a slightly smaller real terms cut in their incomes, came the news that this would be funded by more service cuts.
‘Can the Prime Minister guarantee no more police or prison officers will be lost as a result of the decisions she’s made this week?’
Mrs May was also embroiled in a row after telling MPs some police had seen their take-home pay rise 32 per cent above inflation over the past seven years.
The Prime Minister’s comment came a day after Downing Street signalled the Government was scrapping the pay cap which has limited public service workers’ rises to a maximum of 1% since 2010.
Number 10 announced on Tuesday that police officers would receive a 1% bonus on top of the 1 per cent rise in their basic pay for 2017/18.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons that, with inflation running at 2.9 per cent, even this settlement “amounted to a pay cut in real terms”.
Mrs May responded that many public sector workers enjoy “automatic pay increases over and above the 1%” because of annual increments known as “progression pay” for time served in schools, the NHS, prisons and the police.
She added: “A calculation suggests that a new police officer in 2010, thanks to progression pay and annual basic salary increases and the increase in the personal allowance that is a tax cut for people, has actually seen an increase in their pay of over £9,000 since 2010 – a real-terms increase of 32 per cent.”
A Downing Street source later explained that a typical police officer joining the force on a £23,259 salary in 2010 would have taken home £17,972 after deductions for tax and national insurance.
After seven years’ service, the same officer would have a salary of at least £35,478. This would give a take-home pay of £27,405 after tax and NI contributions – an increase of £9,433.