Unions have slammed a pay freeze for school staff and police – among other public sector workers – expected to be announced, with education leaders saying it would be a “slap in the face”.
The National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales said this move would be “morally bankrupt” in light of the “sacrifices” public sector workers have made during the coronavirus pandemic, and years of pay freezes.
The speculation has been met with widespread anger from unions representing other key worker professions.
Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) said teachers and leaders have worked “under relentless pressure” during the coronavirus pandemic and “are on the frontline of managing public health measures” while also teaching.
Schools have remained open for all students since September – including during England’s second lockdown.
“For many experienced teachers and leaders the prospect of a pay freeze will be the final straw and we are extremely concerned that it will lead to an exodus from the profession,” the union’s general secretary warned.
Paul Whiteman from the school leaders’ union NAHT said: “Another slap in the face on pay, after years of pay freezes and an unbelievably challenging 2020 is an insult that many school staff will be absolutely stunned by.”
A police association has also hit out at a potential pay freeze for workers, saying it would be a “betrayal”.
“During the pandemic, government ministers have thanked and celebrated key workers in the public sector, even clapping on doorsteps to show their support,” the National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, John Apter, said.
“To freeze their pay and penalise these same workers would be complete hypocrisy.”
Mr Apter added: “A pay freeze is not acceptable, and would be seen as a complete betrayal by this government.”
Dave Prentis from Unison, one of the UK’s largerst trade unions, said a pay freeze for all public servants except frontline NHS staff “would be a cruel body blow to other health, care and public service employees working tirelessly” throughout the pandemic.
“It would also backfire badly with the public,” the general secretary added.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said industrial action “cannot be ruled out” if public sector workers are not paid properly.
Meanwhile, Frances O’Grady from the TUC said a pay freeze would be a “bitter pill” for key workers. “Freezing their pay is no way to reward key workers for their service,” she said.
A new report by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) said private sector workers had suffered far more from the economic impact of the disease, and that measures were needed to ensure the labour market was not unfairly weighted towards the public sector.
It said that a three-year pay freeze across the public sector could save up to £23bn, helping to plug the hole in the public finances opened up by the pandemic.
However, one education union warned of the impact of freezing teachers’ pay on students.
Patrick Roach, NASUWT’s general secretary, said: “As children and young people try to recover from the impact of the pandemic, they need more than ever the expertise of experienced and qualified teachers in the classroom.
“Freezing teachers’ pay means risking the loss of that expertise and is a slap in the face to the teaching profession.”
Mr Sunak, the British chancellor, is expected to announce the pay freeze for millions of public servants during a government spending review next week.
The Treasury and the Department for Education have been approached for comment by The Independent.
Additional reporting by Press Association