One in three key workers are on the brink of quitting their jobs in a “mass exodus” that would cause public services to crumble, unions have warned.
The Trades Union Congress said about 1.8 million public sector workers such as police officers, teachers, nurses and care staff have already taken steps to leave their profession or are actively considering it.
They warned this would exacerbate huge vacancy rates and add to the strain on the public sector, including in the NHS, where there are 132,000 job vacancies.
A YouGov poll for the TUC, which represents 5.5 million workers, found that 32 per cent of staff in the public sector are investigating how to leave their jobs amid below-inflation pay rises.
Some 45 per cent of those polled said the government approach on pay had made them more likely to leave their job within three years. For workers in health and social care, the number rises to 50 per cent.
Of those who say they have taken steps to leave or are considering leaving, about half cite low pay and feeling undervalued. One in three blamed a poor work-life balance and excessive workloads.
The TUC said real-terms pay cuts since 2010 meant public sector services had been cut to the bone. They said the government “only has itself to blame” for a wave of strikes this winter. Nurses, care staff, refuse collectors, rail staff, train drivers and lecturers are all preparing to walk out.
Hundreds of thousands of teachers are also poised to strike before Christmas over below-inflation pay rises. Their action threatens to shut schools across England.
Rows over pay have worsened shortages in the education sector. Figures from the TUC show that one in eight newly qualified teachers leave the profession after only a year in the job, and almost a third leave within five years.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Key workers in the public sector helped get the country through the pandemic. But many are now at breaking point because of a toxic mix of low pay, unsustainable workloads and a serious lack of recognition. After years of brutal pay cuts, nurses, teachers, refuse workers and millions of other public servants have seen their living standards decimated and now face more pay misery.
“It is little wonder morale is through the floor and many key workers are considering leaving their jobs for good.”
She added: “If there is large-scale public sector strike action over the months ahead, the government only has itself to blame. It has chosen to hold down public servants’ pay while giving bankers unlimited bonuses.
“Ministers must change course. Without decent pay rises for key workers in the public sector, we face a mass exodus of staff.
“And it would be bad for our economy. As the country teeters on the brink of recession, the last thing we need is working people cutting back on spending even more.
“More money in the pockets of working people means more spend on our high streets.
“Enough is enough. It’s time to give our key workers in the public sector the decent pay rise they are owed.”
The TUC, which has 48 affiliated trade unions, is calling for public sector pay to be a priority in the government’s autumn statement on November 17. It is demanding pay rises that match inflation, now running at 11 per cent.
It also wants the minimum wage to be raised to £15 an hour, and greater investment in public services.