Blair criticises annual pay reviews

27 May 99
Public service unions have ducked a confrontation over comments from the prime minister about the future of annual pay negotiations across the public sector.

28 May 1999

Tony Blair set out the prospect of an end to what he described as 'annual wage squabbling' in a speech to a TUC partnership conference this week.

Downing Street said Blair wanted to see pay reviews spread over several years, but insisted that the government was not interested in prescribing particular solutions for the issue.

However, public service unions such as Unison – the largest – refused to speculate publicly on the prime minister's comments. A Unison spokeswoman said: 'We are more concerned with the idea of partnerships and this government's obsession with the Private Finance Initiative, which is creating many unequal partnerships across the public sector.'

Privately, Blair's comments have caused some anger among union activists, already annoyed by recent pay settlements across the public sector that have been squeezed because of financial pressures.

They are concerned that the comments signal a move away from annual pay reviews for public sector staff. One said: 'We will want to ensure that our members continue to be properly rewarded for the very difficult jobs that they do.'

Announcing a £5m partnership fund between employers and unions to promote a modernisation agenda, Blair said : 'Partnership works best when it's about real goals – part of a strategy, for instance, for doubling the business. Or bringing employee relations into line with market repositioning. Or ending the often meaningless ritual of annual wage squabbling. They're tough objectives. But they're worthwhile objectives.'

The government wants an end to militant trade unionism, Blair said, with no going back to the old ways. He told the delegates: 'If you can demonstrate competencies and efficiencies, on issues like training, pensions and safety, then you can find a role in workplace partnerships.'


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