Focus on pay at 1998 Trades Union Congress

Pay matters were prominent among the issues discussed at the 1998 conference of the UK's Trades Union Congress, held in September.

The annual Trades Union Congress (TUC) was held in Blackpool on 14-17 September 1998. In his opening address, the TUC president, John Edmonds, launched a widely-reported attack on some UK company directors, calling them "greedy bastards" and advocating government action against directors who take excessive pay increases (UK9808146N). He also called for higher tax levels for top earners, saying that "executive pay is now the politics of the pig trough. We have little chance of creating a fair society unless we insist that people with great power act with a similar level of responsibility."

Mr Edmonds' comments were accompanied by an attack on the government's attitude towards public sector workers. The TUC president also stated that thousands of jobs were at risk in manufacturing from the government's policies of keeping interest rates high (UK9808147N), arguing that raising taxes would be a much fairer way of dampening demand. Also on Mr Edmonds' agenda was the matter of privatisation, as reports had made it clear that the possibility of privatising parts of the Post Office was once again under consideration.

Mr Edmonds, who is also general secretary of the GMB general union, had warned prior to the Congress that there was a distinct likelihood of strikes if the perceived crisis in the public sector was not tackled by the government. His warning came as doctors demanded a 10% pay rise and as ministers sought to soften nurses' anger over the introduction of performance-related pay (UK9808144N) and a proposal to introduce a "consultant" nurse grade, giving extra pay to those at the top of the profession.

At the Congress, speakers from unions representing teachers, nurses and the emergency services joined in calling for the government to put greater value on public sector positions. Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the Unison public service workers' union, stated that "the crisis in morale and recruitment is there for all to see." He called for a modern national framework for addressing public sector pay awards and collective bargaining.

Later in the conference, pay again became a subject of contention when unions expressed their dismay over the levels set for the forthcoming National Minimum Wage (NMW) (UK9809152N). Both Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), and Rodney Bickerstaffe of Unison said that, although they were proud that there was finally to be a statutory NMW, they were outraged by the initial GBP 3.60 rate for adults and GBP 3.00 for younger workers. The TUC signalled its determination to press for an hourly rate of GBP 4.61, or preferably GBP 5, for everyone over 18 years of age. While George Bain of the government's Low Pay Commission told delegates that the rate of GBP 3.60 would benefit two million workers, union leaders argued that another two million workers had been deprived of protection by the government's decision to exclude young workers.

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