Boris Johnson warns against high public sector pay offers amid inflation fears

Boris Johnson has warned union chiefs that “too high” pay demands risk fuelling runaway inflation as he condemned the biggest railway strikes in 30 years.

The Prime Minister will use Tuesday’s Cabinet to discuss the industrial action brought by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union [RMT], and will caution public sector pay review bodies to exercise caution in setting pay rises this year.

He will tell ministers that the Government must ensure that pay settlements are “sensible and do not scramble to match inflation” in order to avoid spiralling costs becoming entrenched.

It comes after Treasury minister Simon Clarke insisted on Monday there would be “no inflation busting pay increases” as the Government is becoming increasingly concerned over the impact of inflation on the economy.

Mr Johnson will meet his ministers amid a backdrop of transport chaos, stating that commuters face being forced to work from home, patients will miss hospital appointments, and students will struggle to make their exams.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, he said unions are “harming the very people they claim to be helping” with the strike action, insisting they will drive away commuters who “ultimately support the jobs of rail workers”.

Rail operators have offered workers a 3 per cent salary increase, which has been rejected by the RMT as a real terms cut, coming at a time when inflation is expected to hit 11 per cent.

But Mr Johnson will tell ministers on Tuesday: “Too high demands on pay will make it incredibly difficult to bring to an end the current challenges facing families around the world with rising costs of living.”

The Prime Minister leaves himself open to accusations of trying to influence the independent pay review bodies by insisting that public sector pay increases must be “proportionate and balanced”.

“Sustained higher levels of inflation would have a far bigger impact on people’s pay packets in the long run, destroying savings and extending the difficulties we’re facing for longer,” he will tell ministers.

The comments are likely to spark fury among public sector workers, with teaching unions, nurses and doctors threatening to ballot on strikes this autumn over low pay.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused the RMT of misleading the public on the issue of pay, telling MPs yesterday [MON] that the “whole country is being held to ransom by the union barons”.

He added that changes to the law to allow agency workers to plug the gaps of striking staff was imminent with sources suggesting it could come as soon as Thursday.

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh branded the strike negotiations as a sham “because ministers have set them up to fail”.

Industry leaders said the rail strikes were likely to hit freight deliveries, with around 60-70 per cent of freight deliveries going ahead across the week, with the proportion falling to around 20 per cent on strike days.

Maggie Simpson, director-general of the Rail Freight Group, told i she was “hoping that consumers don’t notice any difference”, for example in supermarkets, but acknowledged “it is a bit uncertain” as maintenance teams are striking which means problems like signal failures could add to the disruption.

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