I am not a fan of policies that freeze wages. However, the idea that the government will freeze the wages of public sector doesn’t seem to really be being debated – outside of the seemingly biased view of the public sector union.
Now, this is one of those rare cases where I think the public sector union is right – and everyone else supporting the policy is wrong. Freezing public sector wages is a bad policy. (Disclaimer – I work in the private sector, so this really doesn’t impact on me directly).
Currently we are experiencing a sharp re-adjustment in both the size and composition of our economy. Now, in the medium term we expect to return to some level of economic activity – but there are fundamental adjustments between roles that have to occur. This implies that we need some stuff to change in the labour market.
In the medium term there will be some roles that are more highly valued than they are now and some roles that are less highly valued. As a result, we need wages to adjust such that people will train and move into the more highly valued roles. If we freeze wages we aren’t letting this happen. Inside government there are areas where we need more training and where we need more employees – in other parts of government we have staff we don’t need. If the government could recognise this and change wages accordingly (it would be nice to have some market mechanism to do this) then we ensure that our public sector becomes “more productive”.
Now, the government is always complaining about the productivity of the public sector – but freezing wages will not help to improve this. In fact, it is a step in the wrong direction!