Strikes point to employer caution over pay rises

Employees at various organisations took to the picket lines, or threatened to, in October and November over issues around pay.

Staff from Royal Mail Group called off strike action after the newly privatised organisation agreed to improve its pay and reward offer.

Post Office employees, who had not received a pay rise since April 2011, called off a planned strike over pay after receiving a letter from the organisation’s chief executive officer.

But employees in the public sector, including teachers and university staff, did take to the picket lines over pay issues.

Meanwhile, annual pay negotiations began at broadcaster ITV. Unions there are asking for a pay rise equivalent to the retail prices index (RPI) plus 3% for employees in 2014.

The Office for National Statistics reported that UK average weekly earnings, excluding bonuses, rose by 0.8% between July and September 2013, indicating that many employers are still putting off pay rises.

Paul Sellers, pay policy adviser at the Trades Union Congress, said: “I think there’s still caution at the moment.

”Every day we see new, quite sunny, economic data. Last year we saw employment rise quite strongly, unemployment go down and a return to GDP growth. We’re also seeing profitability recover, particularly in the public sector, which is where many of the lower-paid jobs are.

“We think the ability to pay is actually there, but feeling the need to pay is not quite there as much as it will be in the coming months. If these economic trends continue, there will be more pressure on employers, which is why forecasters are pretty much all saying that average weekly earnings are going to rise in the coming period.”

Sellers said the TUC was “quite confident” of a return to real earnings growth in 2014. ”The labour market is going to tighten,” he added. “There will be a political aim, with a general election in 2015, and there will be a macroeconomic aim, because you can’t have a sustainable recovery with falling real wages.

“None of that may impact on individual employers, but a tightening labour market and restoration of profitability may well do.”