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Paul Nowak warns that workers are facing “two decades of lost pay”
  • **NEW ANALYSIS** reveals nurses have lost over £40,000 in real earnings since 2008 

  • Incoming TUC general secretary says striking workers have been “left with no choice” after years of pay cuts 

  • Nowak vows to create “stronger and more diverse” trade union movement  

The new general secretary of the TUC, Paul Nowak, has today (Thursday) challenged government and employers to work with unions to end “Britain’s living standards nightmare”. 

Nowak warned that working people are facing “two decades of lost pay” unless the country changes course. 

The call comes as stark new analysis reveals that workers are enduring the longest real wage squeeze in modern history. 

Collapse in earnings 

The analysis shows that UK workers have lost £20,000, on average, in real wages since 2008 as a result of pay not keeping up with the inflation – the equivalent of £1,450 a year. By 2025 the loss will total £24,000.  

And for some key workers in the public sector the squeeze on real earnings has been even worse: 

  • Nurses have lost £42,000 in real earnings since 2008 – the equivalent of £3,000 a year 

  • Midwives have lost £56,000 in real earnings since 2008 – the equivalent of £4,000 a year 

  • Paramedics have lost £56,000 in real earnings since 2008 – the equivalent of £4,000 a year 

More pay misery ahead 

Today’s analysis also reveals that workers are facing another year of pay misery. 

The TUC estimates that average earnings are set to fall by £79 a month in real terms over the course of 2023 – and are not set to recover to their 2008 level until 2027. 

And if the government does not improve its pay offer for public servants, public sector pay will fall, on average, by over £100 a month in real terms in 2023. 

The TUC says UK workers are on course for two decades of “lost pay” as they suffer the longest pay squeeze in more than 200 years.  

Striking workers have been “left with no choice” 

Paul Nowak will today warn that striking workers have been ”left with no choice” after more than a decade of pay cuts. 

And he will accuse ministers of “sabotaging efforts to reach settlements”. 

Nowak says the Conservatives’ decision to hold down public sector pay has left workers “hugely exposed to the cost of living crisis” and deepened the staffing crisis in the NHS, education and other public services. 

TUC polling published in October revealed that 1 in 3 public sector workers are actively considering quitting or have already taken steps to do so. 

Stronger and more diverse movement  

Setting out his plans for the TUC, Nowak will say that his priority as general secretary is to build a “bigger, stronger and more diverse” trade union movement.  

He will say that increasing union membership is how the trade union movement wins the current wave of disputes – and turns the tide on casualisation and standstill wages. 

Referring to the TUC’s work to promote Black leadership and fight racism at work and in the union movement, and to its leadership on preventing sexual harassment, Nowak promises to build a trade union movement that “represents the diversity of the modern working class”. 

Nowak says unions stand ready to work with good employers but “warns there will be no hiding place for P&O style bosses” 

“Reward work-not wealth” 

Calling for an economic reset, Nowak will call for a “proper long-term economic plan that rewards work not wealth.” 

Stressing the need for change, he will call for: 

  • Fair pay agreements to get pay rising in low-paid industries like social care 

  • A real pay rise for public sector workers   

  • A plan for a £15 minimum wage as soon as possible 

  • A proper green industrial strategy to provide good green jobs across the country 

  • Investment in training and skills up and down the UK. 

On the need to get pay rising, TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:  

“Today I am issuing a challenge to government and employers – work with unions to end Britain’s living standards nightmare.  

“UK workers are on course for two decades of lost pay. This is the longest squeeze on earnings in modern history. 

“We can’t go on like this. We can’t be a country where nurses are having to use foodbanks, while City bankers get unlimited bonuses. 

“Unless we get wages rising across the economy, families will just keep lurching from crisis to crisis.” 

On the prospect of further strikes, Nowak said: 

“Nobody takes the decision to go on strike lightly. 

“But this is a problem of the government’s own making. Twelve years of pay cuts have left workers with no choice.  

“Nurses, teachers and other key workers have been forced into taking action to defend their livelihoods and the services they provide.  

“Those out on picket lines this winter got us through pandemic. All they want is a fair day’s pay and to be able to provide for their families. 

“But rather than sitting down and negotiating in good faith with unions, ministers are sabotaging efforts to reach settlements. They are the ones who are behaving unreasonably – not the people taking the hard decision to withdraw their labour. 

“It’s not too late to avert further strikes, but the government must be willing to commit to meaningful talks about pay.” 

On the threat of further restrictions on the right to strike, Nowak added: 

“The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty – but the government is attacking it in broad daylight.  

“It seems more interested in escalating disputes that resolving them. 

“The Conservatives’ draconian new curbs on strikes will tilt the balance of power even more in favour of bad bosses and make it harder for people to win better pay and conditions. 

“Whether it is on strikes or their secret plans to axe vital EU-retained worker rights – like holiday pay and safe working hours – the Tories are fast becoming the P&O party.” 

On his plans to strengthen and diversify the trade union movement, Nowak said: 

"I want my time leading the TUC to focus on one thing: making the trade union movement bigger, stronger and more diverse. 

"Working people are tired of their standard of living falling while their boss’ demands only go up.  

“I will lead a confident growing trade union movement that represents the diversity of the modern working class. That is how we will win the current wave of disputes, and that is how we turn the tide on casualisation and standstill wages. 

“Unions stand ready to work with good employers to drive up growth, living standards and productivity. 

“But there will be no hiding place for P&O style bosses. We will shine a light on their exploitation and take them on.”   

On the need for a long-term economic plan, Nowak said: 

“For too long we have been trapped in a vicious Conservative cycle of stagnant growth, stagnant investment and stagnant wages.  

“It’s time for a proper long-term economic plan that rewards work not wealth. 

“That means delivering sector-wide fair pay agreements to improve pay and conditions in low-paid industries. And it means a proper industrial strategy to deliver good green jobs, training and skills across the country.  

“We can’t afford to get left behind in the global race for the good jobs of the future.”  

Editors note

-Methodology: Analysis for pay across the whole economy uses ONS statistics for average weekly total pay (seasonally adjusted). Inflation has been factored by using CPI with a base year of 2022. We have used this to calculate the cumulative loss in pay by the average worker. 

For losses in pay for NHS workers, the top of the NHS pay scales have been used, as well as CPI with a base year of 2022. 

The projection for the real terms loss in pay for a public sector worker is based on the Institute of Fiscal Studies assumption that the average public sector pay award will be 3%. It also uses the Office of Budget Responsibility’s forecast for CPI inflation, and ONS figures for average weekly total pay (seasonally adjusted) of public sector workers. 

- Photos of Paul Nowak are available from the TUC press office 

- Paul Nowak biography:  

Paul has been an active trade unionist and campaigner his whole working life.   

He first became a union member when he worked part-time at Asda aged 17.   

Paul worked in a call centre for Cheshire County Council’s bus information line in the late nineties, after working on an agency contract in a BT call centre. He also worked as a hotel night porter. Before becoming a trade union official, Paul had always been employed on temporary and agency contracts, so understands the insecurity of never having a permanent contract.     

Paul was a member of the first intake of the TUC's Organising Academy in 1998 – alongside Sharon Graham, now General Secretary of Unite and Roz Foyer, the General Secretary of the Scottish TUC. Aged 26, he became an organiser for BIFU, the financial services union (now part of Unite).  

In 2000, Paul joined the TUC’s staff, later becoming Regional Secretary for the north of England and subsequently Head of Organising, reporting to the General Secretary. In 2013 he was appointed TUC Assistant General Secretary, and in 2016 Deputy General Secretary.   

At the TUC, Paul led the campaign against the government's plans for regional pay in the public sector, introduced the Leading Change programme to develop the skills of senior trade unionists, and worked closely with member unions to defend public sector pensions.  

Over the years, Paul has worked closely with unions and employers to negotiate successful resolutions to major disputes including at the Royal Mail and British Airways.   

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Paul led union efforts to improve the government’s safe working guidance with significant success, ensuring millions of workers had a safer environment to work in. He supported Frances O’Grady in securing furlough, and led campaigns for sector support for the cultural industries, aviation and transport.    

Paul is married to Vicky. They have three grown-up children and live on the Wirral, in Merseyside. Paul is of mixed heritage and is the grandson of immigrants: his grandfathers came to the UK during the Second World War from Poland and China respectively, before settling and raising families in Liverpool. 

- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 


TUC press office   
020 7467 1248  

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