UnionNews reports on yesterday’s regional pay debate in Parliament

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Tory MPs have urged the government to stand firm on plans for controversial regional pay, in the face of growing opposition.

Coalition partners the Liberal Democrats are unhappy about the proposals, with Nick Clegg reported to be ready to veto them, and some Northern Tory MPs oppose them.

But Tory enthusiasts are fighting back, led by Aidan Burley of the Trade Union Reform Campaign ,who urged Chancellor George Osborne to “hold on” to what is now being called “local, market-facing pay”.

The disgraced Cannock Chase MP, who last year was sacked as a Parliamentary aide for his role in organising a Nazi-themed stag party in France,  told the Commons the private sector was “stifled” because it could not compete with public sector employers – even though they are shedding huge numbers of staff and unemployment is high.

Burley attacked “the opposition and their union supporters” for painting regional pay as an attack on the public sector, insisting: “This is not a race to the bottom – it is a race to reality – the reality of what people are paid in the real world.”

He concluded: “The government are right to look at more local, market-facing pay and to end the anomaly of national pay bargaining.”

He was joined by North East Somerset Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg, who suggested: “National pay bargaining not only gets rid of competitiveness for the private sector, but pushes up prices in the area.”

And he added: “We need to go much further so that every school and every hospital decides the pay rates that it will give its employees.”

Another prominent backer is South Northamptonshire Tory Andrea Leadsom, who Labour MP Jim Sheridan pointed out also wants exemptions from the minimum wage for, employers, and he said: “Perhaps that is the real agenda here.”

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told the Commons: “We believe there is a strong case for introducing local market-facing pay and at how that can be done.”

He said their approach was not about ending national pay bargaining, as pay could be made “more responsive to local labour markets” within the framework.

Maude, in one of his first high-profile public appearances since his role in the fuel strike fiasco, said he knew why Labour opposed the scheme.

“It is the Labour party’s union paymasters who are calling the tune. We know that the Labour party ask their union backers which amendments to vote and which to oppose.”

Labour MP Grahame Morris was “perplexed” with Maude’s claim to be in favour of national pay negotiations, yet wanting to change how it is delivered locally.

“I am confused about whether this is a U-turn, or is two U-turns so that the Minister is facing in the same direction?”

He concluded: “My impression is that if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.”

Labour frontbencher Rachel Reeves said the plans would escalate costs to the taxpayer and exacerbate regional inequalities, and MPs from other parties also attacked them.

St Austell & Newquay Lib Dem Stephen Gilbert told Burley that in Cornwall it would be a race to the bottom, adding he had struggled to find anything Maude said that he agreed with.

And Tory Hexham MP Guy Opperman said bluntly: “Regional pay is divisive and manifestly unfair.”


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