Financial Reward for Government Workers and Key Workers Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Financial Reward for Government Workers and Key Workers

Navendu Mishra Excerpts
Monday 14th December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra (Stockport) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer. I thank my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), for securing this important debate at a time when key workers have done so much on the frontline of the covid crisis to keep us all safe and our country moving. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in particular my trade union membership.

As a former retail worker on the shop floor for six years, it is important for me to mention shop workers. Shop workers are key workers. If there is one thing that the pandemic has demonstrated, it is that the shop workers, cleaners and transport workers who are working at the coalface of this crisis are key workers who deserve not only our respect but fair pay, terms and conditions.

We must therefore look again at what support we give them. Recent research by the Trades Union Congress suggests that 3.7 million key workers—that is 38% of all key workers—earn less than £10 per hour. That is not reflective of the service they provide and it is why we must raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour at the very least, as well as put an end to unfair youth rates.

Moving on to the civil service, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made the point that the current system of having over 200 sets of pay talks is hugely inefficient. When will the civil service address that poor practice by implementing a coherent pay system that covers all its workers through one set of centralised negotiations? Research by the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has done so much to bring this issue to the fore and whose petition has now received more than 100,000 signatures, revealed that in the past decade, since the Conservatives entered Government in 2010, civil service pay has fallen in value by up to 20%, with the average civil servant now worse off by more than £2,100 every single year.

Not only is that unacceptable, it is a completely unsustainable position for those who are earning less, year on year. Instead of rewarding Government workers and local government staff for continuing to deliver council services during the most challenging circumstances this year, there was a deep sense of injustice that the Chancellor instead used his spending review to announce a public sector pay freeze. The Fire Brigades Union, which represents firefighters who put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis, subsequently criticised the Government for divide and rule tactics, which is understandable, given that the wealthiest corporations have been allowed to cash in on the pandemic without shouldering any of the burden.

There must also be a new deal for retail, distribution and home delivery workers, based around a real living wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation—not the version this Government have appropriated—and guaranteed hours. As we have seen time and time again during this pandemic, it is imperative that we have meaningful statutory sick pay. The current provision is not fit for purpose and offers little support for those who are sick, having to self-isolate or look after loved ones.

A good route for the Treasury to raise revenue is by ensuring that businesses pay their fair share of tax, by tackling tax avoidance and the use of offshore havens once and for all. For example, over the past 20 years, Amazon paid just £61.7 million in corporation tax, despite its UK sales surging more than 26% to almost £14 billion in the past year alone. We cannot continue down a path on which businesses can afford to pay out millions to shareholders but plead poverty when it comes to paying decent wages to the staff members who create their profits and support our communities. As the Government stall on their support for workers, I urge all workers to join a trade union for the protection and dignity that they deserve.