Public sector employees, many of whom are essential COVID-19 workers, should not be subject to a continuing pay freeze from a government that has not learnt the lessons of austerity.
Unite was responding to the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) which said a freeze on public sector pay for the next three years could save £23 billion.
It is feared that the think tank is acting as an outrider for chancellor Rishi Sunak as he prepares to unveil the public spending review next week.
Unite contrasted the government’s past priorities of holding down the pay of nurses, teachers and local government workers, while, according to the National Audit Office, more than half of the £18bn spent on pandemic-related contracts was awarded without competitive tender, with firms recommended by MPs being fast-tracked.
Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “For the last nine months of the pandemic, public sector workers have kept the NHS running, the schools open and refuse being collected – these are the very same workers who have had their pay held down in real terms during a decade of Tory austerity.
“It should not be forgotten that more than an estimated 600 NHS and social care workers, often on low pay, have died from causes linked to COVID-19.
“Now the Centre for Policy Studies has the nerve to suggest that the public sector workforce should again bear the brunt of a three-year pay freeze, at a time when it has been revealed that ministers have been casual in the extreme over their stewardship of the public purse in how PPE contracts have been awarded.
"We suspect that the CPS is being used as an outrider to pave the way for Rishi Sunak’s statement on public spending next week. The CPS’ analysis is insulting to those public sector workers that have underpinned the fabric of society during this continuing pandemic.
"If Boris Johnson’s much-vaunted ‘levelling up’ agenda means anything, he should be telling Rishi Sunak to loosen the purse strings on public sector pay for those workers, many of whom have lost up to £3,000-a-year in real terms during the austerity decade.
"We call for a generous financial settlement for the more than five million employees in the public sector and we know that such pay increases will be spent in the local economies boosting the hospitality sector and the country’s beleaguered high streets once the national lockdown restrictions are eased next month.
"In the spring, the prime minister was praising NHS staff for saving his life, now, in the autumn, he needs to ensure that his chancellor turns those warm words into hard cash for those that ensure the efficient running of the NHS, schools and colleges, and the myriad of services provided on a daily basis by local councils."