Thousands join TUC march over wages and workers' rights

Demonstrators gather in London for a protest organised by the Trades Union CongressImage source, Reuters

Thousands of people have joined a trade union march calling for a "new deal" for workers and public services.

The central-London demonstration, led by the Trades Union Congress, highlighted demands for better pay and job security.

TUC research said the UK's real wage squeeze would be the worst in modern history and the slowest for 200 years.

The government said its policies had boosted pay for the lowest earners and meant workers could keep more of it.

'Below the breadline'

Demonstrators gathering at Saturday's march called for a higher minimum wage of £10 an hour, a ban on zero-hours contracts and greater funding for the NHS, education and other public services.

At a rally in Hyde Park at the end of the march, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the crowd that his party would create a ministry to guarantee worker's rights.

"We will give workers more power by strengthening their rights and freedoms to organise together to improve their lives," he said.

He blamed eight years of government cuts for the lack of wage growth. "They protect the tax havens and cut the spending for public services," Mr Corbyn said.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd in Hyde Park

'Like a festival in a soggy field'

Lisa Hampele, BBC News

Thousands upon thousands of people marched through London's streets, some dancing, playing drums, shouting slogans and carrying banners aloft.

Nurses, teachers, office workers, ambulance crews, civil servants and cleaners joined the noisy and colourful demonstration.

As they arrived for the rally in Hyde Park the rain began and it became more like a festival in a soggy field. There were food stalls, bands playing and speeches from union leaders and peace campaigners.

The star of the show, Jeremy Corbyn - wearing a cream jacket and a big smile - was cheered like a pop star. The applause was long and loud.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, told the crowd that 150,000 civil servants could ballot for strike action after members were offered a below-inflation 1% pay rise for the 11th year running.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "There is a new mood in the country. People have been very patient but they are now demanding a new deal."

Meanwhile, research published by TUC suggested wages in the UK had lagged behind inflation since 2008, and were worth £24 less in real terms than in 2008.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
McDonald's workers marched to highlight their cause

The TUC also said wages would not recover until 2025, by which time, it said, the average worker would have lost £18,500.

The TUC's deputy general secretary Paul Nowack told the BBC that 17 years of falling wages in real terms amounted to the biggest relative wage loss since the Napoleonic Wars.

In the last eight years, a million more children from working families were living "below the breadline", he said.

"I don't think it's right that people who go out and work are struggling to put food on the table."

Helping lowest earners

Elsewhere, economists said the slow wage growth was a result of low productivity in the UK, rather than austerity policies.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told the BBC: "That means that the amount we produce for each hour we work is basically the same as it was in 2008. If we're not producing any more, we're not in the end going to be able to earn any more."

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Tens of thousands of workers joined the TUC demonstration, making it the largest in years

A Treasury spokesperson said wages were forecast to grow faster than inflation in each of the next five years, and that government policies were helping British workers.

"Our National Living Wage has boosted pay for the lowest earners by over £2,000 already; we are cutting taxes to help people keep more of what they earn; and we are making sure people have the skills they need to secure high-quality, well-paid jobs by investing in technical education and boosting apprenticeships."

The TUC said its figures were based on annual average weekly earnings for total pay (including bonuses) adjusted with the CPI measure of inflation, which were then compared with long-run back data published by the Bank of England.

The forward-looking ones were based on the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast to 2022, and then a projection to 2025 using the average forecast growth rate for the 2018-22 period.