Despite continued concern within the public sector about job cuts and pay freezes, figures show that on average public employees are paid between 7.7 % and 8.7% higher than people working in the private sector. The figures, produced by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for 2011, indicate that not only are public sector workers paid more, but that the gap is growing. According to the ONS, the gap was 5.3% in 2007 and 7.8% in 2010.
The figures cast some doubt over the common assumption that it is the public sector which is bearing the brunt of the government’s austerity measures, in the battle to get national debt under control. However the figures, although revealing, do not tell the whole story, as they show average pay rates and not direct comparisons between comparable jobs in the two sectors.
One potential explanation for the widening gap is that many former public workers are now on a private contract basis for doing essentially the same jobs but employed through agencies or private firms on a contracted basis on lower rates of pay. The ONS offered several other possible explanations for the gap, including the fact that employees were generally older in the public sector and salaries usually increased with age, and that the public sector had a greater proportion of skilled jobs.
Neil Carberry, a director of the employer’s organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), claimed that regardless of the methodology it was ‘clear that public sector pay is still considerably higher than pay in the private sector’. He went on to stress the ‘need to ensure that public sector salaries reflect local labour market conditions, by putting pay decisions into the hands of individual employers at the local level’.