Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 1 October 2013

This is a Public Service Announcement part ii

Not very surprisingly, I suppose, the time has come when I regularly revisit ideas that I have blogged about before.

Firefighters on the picket line
Today, I’m going back to public service pay and conditions in light of the teachers’ and firefighters’ strikes of the past week. You can find my original thoughts on public sector pay over here.

The last time I remember waves of public service strikes was under the Thatcher government in the mid-eighties when I was at university and was learning to be political. The teachers’ pay dispute took two years of striking to resolve. 

Strikes have long been a legitimate tool of industrial action. The Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher used the actions against strikers to render them unpopular over long periods with the public and, arguably, to cause the sort of frustration that led to some of the reported disputes. The miners strikes from the same period have become notorious.

Thatcher stood her ground, long disputes created divisions between the various teaching unions, and even within them, union numbers fell, and the unions became increasingly unpopular with the families of children whose education was being disrupted by the strikes, so that the teachers and schools were losing public support.

For sixty years the Burnham Committee had been the forum for negotiating the pay and conditions for teachers in the public sector. The teaching unions were represented, alongside the LEAs and government representatives. The Burnham Committee was disbanded by the Conservative Government of the day in favour of pay scales set by the Secretary of State for Education. It was a retrograde step as far as many of the teaching unions were concerned.

When the dispute was over in 1986, Secondary school teachers were earning an average of £11,120. I used a conversion calculator to give me some idea whether their earnings are worth a similar value now.

I value teachers, but I fear that they are not valued as they should be in society. I think of them as professionals, but was horrified to find that they earn, on average, a starting salary of less than £22,000.

The average earnings for a secondary school teacher in 2007 was £35,700.

It’s easy enough, then, isn’t it, to plug in the figures and make a comparison between the 1986 earnings and the 2007 earnings? So, of course that’s what I did next.

£11,120. in 1986 is worth £27,623.19 now.

You’re all jumping up and down now, aren’t you?

You’re all terribly excited, because all that injustice that we’ve been talking about isn’t actually real, is it? Teachers are doing better aren’t they? Now you’re beginning to wonder what all the fuss is about, aren’t you?

Well I’ll tell you what all the fuss is about.

The teachers’ standard of living has increased by 35.7%, which sounds pretty good.

However, the average wage increase between 1986 and 2011, in real terms, according to the Consumer Price Index, was actually 62%. That means that teachers aren’t half as well of as the rest of us!

In the First World in the twenty-first century, I’m frankly appalled that teachers and firefighters feel the need to fight for their rights to equal anything, particularly when they'd rather be doing their jobs! And they're not even fighting over pay; they're fighting for pension rights.

I’m frankly appalled that there is still a good reason for professionals to require unions and for them to need those unions to organise strike action, but, apparently those things remain a necessity. 

It doesn’t surprise me that teachers and firefighters are taking strike action during the term of a Conservative government, but I also remember the teachers’ strike in 2008 under the then New Labour government, and I’m deeply concerned by the current schism between the Labour party and the Unions. Who can possibly forget that the one would never have existed at all without the other?

I’m not sure where we’re heading politically right now, but I shall watch with mixed interest and trepidation as we approach the next general election in eighteen months time, and I’m sure I’ll express some of my thoughts here.


  1. Except that it's not a Conservative government. It's a Coalition government. The Conservatives did not win a majority sufficient to form a government.

    1. You're right, of course. On the other hand, it's hard to think of this government as anything short of right wing.