By a Newsnet reporter
Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls was yesterday booed and heckled by delegates at the TUC conference in Brighton after saying he supported the pay freeze on public sector pay, and refusing to commit a future Labour government to repealing the unpopular measure. SNP MSP John Wilson said that the incident illustrated how “out of touch with rank and file union members” the shadow chancellor and the Labour leadership had become, and added that Labour must choose whether they are on the side of ordinary working people or not.
In bad-tempered exchanges at the TUC conference in Brighton during a question and answer session after Mr Balls delivered his speech attacking the Coalition’s economic policy, which was received with polite but muted applause, delegates representing public sector workers shouted “shame on you” at the former Cabinet minister and began to chant “off, off”.
The catcalls were provoked when Liz Cameron, a delegate from the public sector union, Unison, asked Mr Balls why he and the Labour party were supporting a pay policy introduced by the Conservatives. Ms Cameron added that she was proud to be a public service worker but said that she and her colleagues were struggling to make ends meet after three years of pay freeze.
To loud applause and cheers from the other delegates, Ms Cameron said:
“There are care workers, dinner ladies, teach ing assistants, youth service workers like myself …. going through the second restructure in 12 months, two months ago taking a £3,500 pay cut. What is the response from our Labour Party?
“Why is it that we hear you and Ed Miliband talking about supporting this Tory pay freeze when I am having to make hard life decisions, on whether or not I can choose to buy food?
“How on earth can you expect to get the support of hundreds of thousands of public service workers when you continue to repeat that position?”
Mr Balls responded that in the diffcult economic climate we currently experience, jobs were more important than pay rises. Mr Ball’s comments were met with sustained booing and jeering.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said:
“If he really understood the massive impact of a three-year pay freeze on families struggling to pay for food and fuel, or forced to turn to pay-day loans where interest can be a terrifying 4,000%, he too would be calling for an end to the pay freeze.”
SNP MSP John Wilson, deputy convenor of Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, said:
“The reaction to Ed Balls by delegates attending the TUC conference to his call for pay restraint by public sector workers clearly shows how he and the Labour Party are out of touch with the rank and file trade union members.
“At a time when directors pay is shown to be rising by by on average 8% and food and fuel prices continuing to rise, the squeeze on public sector workers taking the brunt of economic decisions made by the banks and Labour and Conservative /Lib Dem governments, means that local government workers are being scapegoated for failures not of their making.
“The Labour Party have to decide on whether they want to protect workers on low incomes or prop up a failing economic system that penalises the lowest paid in our society while directors and senior bankers are getting richer at the expense of hard working public sector workers.”