Trade unions have urged the government to scrap plans for regional pay in the public sector after the Liberal Democrat conference voted yesterday against the change.The motion at the party’s gathering in Brighton highlighted concerns that local pay deals could adversely affect areas with lower incomes. It said there would be the risk of a ‘brain drain’ as more skilled or experienced public sector workers moved to higher paying places.
Delegates called on the government to rule out any expansion in regional or local pay, and to continue with the existing national public sector pay deals. These agreements, such as Agenda for Change in the NHS, already include flexibility to help employers solve specific staff recruitment and retention problems, the motion added.
The vote comes after the Trades Union Congress revealed yesterday that almost two-thirds of voters think the government should drop its regional pay plans.
LibDem Treasury spokesman Stephen Williamssaid that the party valued ‘the dedication and hard work of public sector workers across the country’.
He added: ‘I am pleased that Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and others have spoken out against regional pay. The Liberal Democrats have now made it absolutely clear that we want the government to rule it out altogether.’
Both the Royal College of Nursing and trade union Unison welcomed the vote.
Speaking at a fringe meeting yesterday evening, Josie Irwin, the RCN’s head of employment relations, called on LibDem members to campaign to stop the proposals.
She highlighted the consortium of 20 NHS trusts in the Southwest of England that plans to introduce a regional pay deal for staff.
Irwin said: ‘What we want from Liberal Democrats is action to halt what’s going on, to highlight the dangers of what going on in the Southwest for the rest of the UK and for patients.’
Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea also welcomed the party’s stance.
She told the meeting: ‘The LibDems are right to be concerned about plans to regionalise public sector and NHS pay. We welcome the party’s support for our campaign and will be working with them to safeguard these important national agreements. Regional pay would hit local economies, entrenching low pay in certain areas.
‘The other half of the coalition needs to come clean about its plans and see sense about the danger that regional pay poses.’
McAnea added that the Southwest trusts were ‘not fooling around’.
She said: ‘They’re serious about it. What we want to do is work together in the Southwest to tell these 20 trusts to back off and let national negotiations [to update Agenda for Change] take their course, and not try to break away.’
The coalition government has asked the public sector pay review bodies to consider how wages could be made more responsive to local labour markets. Their reports are expected in later this autumn.