Controversial local pay rates for public sector workers should not lead to pay cuts, the Business Secretary has said.
Vince Cable said the idea of paying public servants in some areas less than those in the English Home Counties was “completely unacceptable”.
Government proposals to ditch national public sector pay rates have been hugely controversial in Northern Ireland, which is thought to be particularly vulnerable to any change.
That is because of the gap, ministers argue, that exists between public-sector wages and comparable pay in the private sector.
Speaking at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, Mr Cable said he backed the idea of using local bargaining to boost salaries according to local need.
However, speaking in a question and answer session at the party conference, he suggested that any change should not be used to hold down wages in poorer regions.
He told delegates: “We’ve made it absolutely clear as a party that we are not going along with some proposal that says that everybody who lives in (a specific region) should be paid less if they're in the public sector because they live in one region rather than another.”
“If they're wanting teachers in Sunderland and they're short of maths teachers it makes sense to build in some incentives.
“So, having more flexibility is a sensible principle, but we mustn't allow it to become an argument that can be used to undermine the incomes of people in parts of the country that are already doing relatively badly.”
The issue will come to the fore tomorrow when members discuss a motion to say that the party does not support any regional or local pay schemes. This would be a significant blow to Chancellor George Osborne’s hopes of winning over Liberal Democrat MPs.
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