MPs’ staff are calling for an overhaul of the way they are paid after the UK’s parliamentary expenses watchdog admitted that MPs might not be passing on money allocated to them for their employees’ wages.
Since 2010, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has increased MPs’ staffing budgets annually and, in addition, allowed for a staff salary boost that is in line with average increases for public sector workers. This increased at the start of the current financial year in April by 1.8 per cent.
But it is at the discretion of the MP to award this pay rise.
Unions said discrepancies in the treatment of staff have been allowed to go unchallenged for years because MPs are entitled to run their office as if they were self-employed.
Staff said they felt there was no internal way of communicating concern over pay because they work directly for the MP or their offices, rather than for parliament, and so there is no independent avenue for complaints.
IPSA said that in early 2017 the authority commissioned an independent review of the pay of MPs staff and as a result changed the pay bands for MPs’ employees, including the minimum salary.
“We regularly meet with MPs, MPs’ staff, union and staff association representatives,” it said. “However, MPs are the legal employer of their staff and it is for MPs to decide upon the salaries of their staff.”
But unions and staff representatives are now calling on IPSA to pass on this annual cost of living increase automatically.
Georgina Kester, senior assistant to a Conservative MP and chairwoman of the Members and Peers’ Staff Association, said: “While we appreciate that staff budgets and salaries are a matter for each MP’s office, an annual cost of living increase, via the staffing budget increase, should be passed on to the staff automatically and not at the discretion of each MP.
“IPSA could facilitate this and help ensure that parliament is a fair and equal workplace and that staff feel their work is recognised and rewarded. But we absolutely don’t want to see centralised employment and MPs do still need to be able to employ their own staff.”
IPSA declined to respond to a freedom of information request from the Financial Times on how many MPs had given salary increases to their staff of at least 1.8 per cent since April.
Anecdotal evidence suggested that a significant number of staff had not received the 1.8 per cent rise. Nine out of 11 people approached by the FT said that had not enjoyed the pay rise.
Max Freeman, chair of the Unite parliamentary staff branch, the union that represents staff of MPs working in Westminster and constituency offices, said: “It’s blindingly clear that it’s only fair that pay rises go directly to staff, just like they do for MPs.
“Until an improved system is put in place, we’re calling on any MP that has not already done so to make sure the 1.8 per cent pay increase is paid. It’s their responsibility as employers to act fairly and treat staff with the respect they deserve.”
The NUJ, the union that represents the staff of Scottish National party MPs, added: “The arbitrary nature of salary awards within offices is just another flaw in the design of parliament as a workplace.”
One woman who has worked for two Conservative MPs over the past two years said MPs were often keen to brag of having the lowest staffing costs following the uproar over the expenses scandal, “but all that means is their staff are paid the lowest legally possible”.
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