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WMN opinion: Regional pay plan would be unfair on loyal staff

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 10, 2012

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For decades it has been generally accepted that low pay is one of the biggest restraints to a buoyant regional economy in the South West.

Private sector wages are well below the national average and raising rates of pay – so long as local business and industry can sustain them – must be a long term goal for our region.

And that is why the introduction of regional pay rates for public sector workers, which would bring down the level of rewards for teachers, health service workers, civil servants and others in the Westcountry, would be such a backward step.

There have been arguments that regional pay adjustments in the public sector would level up the playing field, but it is a flawed one.

Forcing lower pay on the public sector would merely further ingrain low wages in the region.

All it does is condemn public sector workers – many doing vital jobs – to rates of pay that compare badly with those in other parts of Britain.

It seems just plain unfair.

This week the issue will come firmly into the national spotlight as the TUC discuss national pay agreements at the annual conference in Brighton.

Union leaders have already called on NHS bosses in Devon and Cornwall to scrap their plans for pay reductions.

Unions say the South West Pay Consortium (SWC) is doing almost irrevocable damage to employment relations and have called on its 20 members to step back before it is too late.

The SWC, which includes hospitals in Truro, Plymouth and Exeter, has been established to examine way of dealing with unprecedented financial challenges.

The TUC fears the South West is now being used as a guinea pig pilot for regional pay, and if it works here, it could be rolled out across th rest of the country.

It is impossible not to believe that if this goes ahead workers in the South West will be confined to the very bottom leagues of low pay for decades.

The damage it will do to local economies is immeasurable.

There is no evidence that stands up to scrutiny to suggest workers in the Westcountry don't need as much pay as employees elsewhere – except in London where housing costs are exceptionally high. But this is already addressed through 'London weighting'.

The cost of living in the South West is as expensive as anywhere else, if not more so.

Housing costs are high, and because of largely inadequate public transport a car is essential. Fuel is expensive, and we all know South West householders face the highest water bills in the country.

So we continue to maintain that the impact regional pay would have on Devon and Cornwall is very bad news indeed.

It is bound to drive talent out of the region.

Regionalising public sector pay is bad for hardworking people in the Westcountry. It is unfair and it must not be introduced.

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