UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The public sector pay premium – something worth defending

Unions have long advanced the concept, based on sound evidence, of a Union Advantage - foremost of which is the union wage premium. According to the TUC, on average union members earn 12.5% more per hour than non-members. Given that union membership density in the public sector is 56% compared to 14% in the private sector it is perhaps self evident that a wage premium should exist in the public sector.

Recent research by the European Work and Employment Research Centre at Manchester University confirms that in 2011 median gross hourly earnings in the public sector exceeded those in the private sector by 28% (male full-time), 43% (female full-time) and 43% (female part-time).

However the report notes that important adjustments are required to form an objective comparison, such as:

- factoring in levels of skills and qualifications (which account for half the premium)

- the impact of the widespread (mis)use of the national minimum wage on median private sector earnings

- comparisons exclude bonus payments and other fringe benefits which vary between public and private sectors.

UNISON is right to highlight the complex explanations for the public sector pay premium but for low paid and part time women workers it is far from a myth. Notwithstanding several years of a pay freeze, the removal of gender bias in the pay structures of the public sector has delivered improved wages for hundreds of thousands of women workers which are now jeopardised by an austerity driven intensification of outsourcing and renewed attacks on TUPE (as well as the regional pay agenda).

The Con Dem discourse about a privileged public sector workforce is best challenged as being a race to the bottom - one which turns the clock back on a decade of progress in equality proofing payment systems in UK public services.