What recovery? British unions demand pay rises

8th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

British trade unions bosses said declining living standards will be the battleground for next year's general election after lashing out against government austerity measures at their annual conference on Monday.

The nation's unions chief Frances O'Grady also warned that Europe-wide austerity measures, implemented after the global financial crisis, were counterproductive, hit living standards and damaged growth.

"We've put the cost of living crisis centre stage on the public agenda," said Trades Union Congress (TUC) secretary-general O'Grady at its annual conference.

The TUC, the umbrella group for unions representing 6.2 million workers, is using the meeting to urge an end to the squeeze on public sector spending and pay that has been imposed since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition won power from Labour in 2010.

"So, come the election, we all face a choice," O'Grady told delegates.

"Are we going to settle for a nastier and poorer Britain? A Downton Abbey-style society, in which the living standards of the vast majority are sacrificed to pay for the high living of the well to do?"

- Austerity under attack -

The TUC began its annual meeting on Sunday in Liverpool, northwest England, with fierce attacks on the austerity policies of Prime Minster David Cameron's coalition.

It also called on the government to lift the minimum wage to £10 ($16, 12.5 euros) per hour. It is due to rise to £6.50 next month.

Unions meanwhile threatened disruptive public sector strikes in Britain in the run-up to the election in May 2015.

"Economic growth is back but there is no sign of it in most workers' pay packets," O'Grady told delegates on Monday.

"Now the economy is recovering, any reasonable person might think this is the time to help repair household budgets and share the proceeds of growth more fairly.

"But the jobs that are being created too often are low paid and insecure."

The economy is staging a strong recovery so far this year, growing by 0.8 percent in both the first and second quarter of this year, in stark contrast with the stagnating eurozone.

At the same time however, recent data showed that average weekly wages excluding bonuses grew by just 0.6 percent in the three months to June.

That was significantly below inflation during the period, meaning that the purchasing power of wages actually fell.

- Europe feeling pinch -

"Working people across Europe are seeing their living standards under attack," O'Grady told AFP in an interview, adding: "Many people see the European political class as being out of touch with their concerns."

"And increasingly, people understand it is bad economics too. If people don't have money in their pockets, how are they going to spend in local shops and businesses and ensure that the recovery such as it is sustainable."

Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, Britain's biggest public sector trade union, revealed Sunday that it has balloted its membership over industrial action during the week of October 13.

He added that the union's 1.4 million members had had enough.

"We talk about growth in the economy, but it's based on poverty pay and zero hours contracts," he told journalists, referring to contracts that keep employees available with no guarantee of work.

"We cannot sit back and allow people who supply our essential services -- mainly women -- to be treated as they are now."

The theme of this year's conference is "Britain Needs A Pay Rise", as the TUC argues that workers have failed to benefit from the recovery.

© 2014 AFP

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