Public sector workers across several different industries are striking this Christmas as they call for better pay and conditions.
Unions say most of the pay rises awarded earlier this year are not enough for people to live on, especially with the current high level of inflation.
As those in the public sector, of which there are about 5.7 million, receive taxpayers’ money, the amount they are paid is determined by their overall employer – the government.
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However, there is a lengthy process to determine their pay before ministers ever see a number.
How are public sector pay rises determined?
Pay review bodies
Independent pay review bodies play an integral role in informing the government’s final decision on how about 45% of the public sector gets paid – including teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers and members of the armed forces.
There are eight pay review bodies made up of experts in their field whose appointments are made on merit, not political affiliation.
The process begins when the secretary of state for the relevant area requests recommendations on employee pay from the pay review bodies.
They will set a timeline and parameters such as asking the bodies to consider issues such as affordability, retention, recruitment and the state of the entire labor market.
Departments’ spending on pay is limited by the amount of funding they receive from the Treasury.
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A range of sources, such as trade unions and their members, as well as employers, then submit evidence to the pay review bodies, who will usually visit staff from their sector to determine concerns and opinions.
The government then also submits its formal pay offer at this stage for all levels of staff affected.
After receiving all the evidence from the relevant groups, the pay review bodies then recommend what the level of pay should be.
What happens after the recommendations are made?
The government chooses when it will respond to and publish the reports made by the pay review bodies.
Secretaries of state usually respond to the recommendations by issuing a written ministerial statement in parliament.
On the whole, the recommendations are accepted by secretaries of state, but there have been times when they have overridden the recommendations.
Sectors can disagree with the pay changes and can strike over the decision, but the government has the ultimate say.
What is the government’s position?
Ministers have said it is the pay review bodies who determine what each sector should be paid so it is not the government’s place to negotiate pay with the unions.
Treasury Minister Andrew Griffith said it “makes a mockery of the process” if the government starts overruling the pay bodies.
But Labor said it is “completely unreasonable” for the government to not negotiate directly with the unions.
Are there pay review bodies for all public sector jobs?
Civil servants not in the senior civil service have their pay set by individual departments, according to guidance issued by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury.
Local government staff (not teachers) have their pay determined by their employers and trade unions.
Firefighters’ pay is set by a separate body that is part of the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, which tends to follow the Treasury’s public sector pay policy, although it is not bound by it.
Devolved governments – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – set their own pay policy for public bodies under their control.