Unions criticise Ed Balls's pay freeze comments


Shadow chancellor Ed Balls: ''Pay restraint is going to have to continue''

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Unions have accused Labour of failing to speak up for "ordinary people" after shadow chancellor Ed Balls indicated the party would support a pay freeze for public sector workers.

The government has said public sector pay will rise by 1% in the two years to 2015, which is likely to amount to a pay cut once inflation is factored in.

PCS union leader Mark Serwotka said the comments were "hugely disappointing".

The RMT rail union suggested the stance could cost the party votes.

Neither the PCS or RMT are affiliated to the Labour Party.

Mr Serwotka accused the Labour Party of "emulating the Tories" on many issues.

"It's hugely disappointing that the Labour Party are just emulating the Tories on many issues," he told the BBC.

"On the one hand, Labour seem to be saying the coalition are going too far, too fast... but on the other hand saying we would have to make the same tough decisions," he said.

"Instead of matching them on the cuts they should be articulating a clear alternative and speaking up for public sector workers and ordinary people in society."


Ed Balls is famous for being the attack dog of the Labour Party. But behind the scenes there's been a discussion about whether his stance on the government's austerity drive has been too rigid.

Polling suggests that Labour needs to do much more to regain the trust of voters by laying out more clearly what the party would do if it got back into power.

In particular, Mr Balls wants to dispel any perception that the party would throw money at every problem. That's why he is now telling shadow ministers that they shouldn't be promising to reverse the government's cuts till more is known about the economic situation in 2015.

Critics on the left have already said that will confuse the opposition's message. But Mr Balls is determined it's the best way to restore credibility with the public.

Income squeeze reality

In a speech to the Fabian Society, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said he could not promise to reverse any cuts and said Labour faced "a big task" to regain economic credibility.

He said Labour needed to offer an economic alternative that met the twin challenges of boosting growth now through temporary tax cuts and investment in jobs and delivering reform over the longer term to build "responsible capitalism".

"The challenge we face is both to set out a radical and credible alternative and to win public trust for that alternative vision," he said.

Ahead of the speech, Mr Balls told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I understand the anger in the public and private sectors at that income squeeze but the reality is given the economy failing as it is, that that pay restraint is going to have to continue."

Mr Balls also said that the option of awarding higher pay was not available to any political party.

The president of the RMT union, Alex Gordon, said: "What Ed Balls is announcing is that Labour's given up on opposing those policies," he said.

"I think from the trade unions' point of view, what we're going to be asking is if Labour doesn't want to be the opposition, then where is the opposition going to come from to this government?"

RMT general secretary Bob Crow agreed, saying Mr Balls was signing "Labour's electoral suicide note".

'Responsible capitalism'

Michael Fallon, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said Labour should now vote in support of coalition plans in the Commons.

"They've got to answer the question of would they actually support what we're doing and why are they still saying that we are cutting too fast when they are not proposing to reverse any of our cuts?" he told BBC Radio 5 live.

The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes, said it was time that Labour came to its senses, but argued that it would not gain them any electoral advantage.

He added: "They can't have it both ways. They can't be hugely critical of the government one day and then say they'd have the same policy the next."

Fabian Society general secretary Andrew Harrop said there was "an unanswerable case for an immediate stimulus package followed by long-term fiscal discipline".

"If anything Ed underplayed the scale of the economic challenge. If the world economy takes a tumble this year the fiscal injection he proposes will be too modest," he said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    Susanna Reid made Balls look like a fool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    @487 " I blame Labour for mishandling the economy in the boom years."

    Not this tired old rubbish again! Labour ran it just like the Tories before them as the figures prove if you cared to look instead of peddling Daily mail rhetoric.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    Why should public sector workers get a pay rise? Many private sector workers are not. I blame Labour for mishandling the economy in the boom years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    @484. Hastings
    agreed - we are all paying for those at the top screwing up

    @481. fishinmad
    what, the same real world in which 180 old people freeze every day in winter, where millions live in fuel poverty whilst the rich are living it up? Those of us in the real world know that the country cannot take more cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    I see people stating the public sector pay is better than the private sector pay, having worked for both the private one used to be way better than the public sector until labour introduced the minimum wage,that imho is responsible in its entirety for reducing the private sector wages.
    see nothing any good has ever come out of the labour party

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    The unions are saying that it is only public sector workers that are paying for the crisis.

    Well, news for them, in the private sector we have been paying for it for years. Job losses and lack of pay increases are much worse in the private sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    Obviously, I need to put the record straight again: the unemployed are not all 'benefit scroungers'. Workers made redundant due to the recession are in receipt of benefits - I should know, I'm one of them. Having worked virtually all of my adult life, I'm now loafing about at the tax-payers' expense (let's forget that I paid tax, too) on the princely sum of £67.50 a week. Wanna swap?

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    this does not surprise me as it was labour that started the climb in the pension age and removed pension credit for the 60year olds,they were the first party who recently attacked public pensions followed by the coalition,jeez labour ceased being there for the workers years ago it is now only interested in the non workers of this world,,let that party die away and good riddance

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    Everyone else has more or less woken up to the real world - well, almost, neither of the 2 Eds can admit Labour's role in worsening the crisis - but the Unions still live in a fairy tale world.
    The world where there is a bottomless pit of tax-payers money.
    Mind you, I too am angry that workers endure a pay-freeze whilst benefits scroungers get a 5% increase.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    Ed Balls realizes that wages in the private sector are likely to go down in the second half of next year, when the double dip of the recession kicks in, after the Olympics are over. That's when the true hardship will begin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    465 ommadawn2000

    A productive job is one that brings added value to the economy rather than increasing overheads - both footballers and bookmakers pay taxes, and both are an overhead. This is the root cause of our economic woes - too much wealth transfer, and too little genuine wealth production. This imbalance cripples any chance of a recovery - overhead always rises faster than income!

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    What did you expect Labour is not a party for the workers or the poor, they are now just another establisment party. The system in the UK is no better than was in the Soviet system. You get a vote for one of the accepted establisment partys. The unions pay into the Labour party they get very little for the money, its time that each union member decided which party the money goes to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    I think the government should start doing polls of where they think money should be saved because its a no win situation. If public sector pay is not frozen, tax would be increased further in its place to make it up, of which there would be an argument still.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    I agree with one comment, the rich are getting richer and the poor getting less, which ever government is in power this need to be halted and a more balanced system

    ++ Unfortunate result of global corporatisation. We had a chance to deal with it but Thatcher was allowed to open the markets wide with Reagan. Too late to do anything about it now short of a world revolution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    in this country it pays to be dishonest (MPs, people at HM pleasure etc) it pays to be lazy (because the state will pay me to not to work)
    but people who want to work are punished more and more each day

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    THOUGHT this was about the unions not being happy with labour seems to have drifted somewhat by the comments here HYS always turns to talk of the bankers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Well about time to. Labour have been hiding behind what they did for 13 years and basically left the country as it is. It is time labour got behind the sitting Government and we just may come out of this in one piece. I agree with one comment, the rich are getting richer and the poor getting less, which ever government is in power this need to be halted and a more balanced system introduced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    people at the top can get away with 49% rises a year and huge bonuses,

    people that don't work get 5.2% and around 12 -15 % over 4 years,

    but most civil servants will get approx nil rise for 4 years, and have real and significant pay cuts when pension contributions and inflation are taken into account.

    so +15% if you don't work and -25% if you do? how fair is that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    @460. agrable "that is nonsense"

    Small business owner was probably a poor example for the reason you say. But my argument was that if the problem is disparity in pay the solution is not redistribution through tax. People who earn their pay as income and pay tax on it are already heavily burdened with tax. We have a 50% top rate. You're going to be taxing your doctors, not your CEOs. That's just?

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    464. nonnamei -''What the hell! I'm almost on as much as a Nurse on "point 16" (whatever that is) and I don't contribute much to anything. How is this possible?''

    Perhaps appraisals have lapsed at your appointment ... shhhh! keep your head down ;-)


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