The UK's 'jobs-rich, pay-poor' economy is likely to last until at least the end of the decade, according to the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.
According to its latest outlook, many employees will not see much of an increase to their pay in real-terms, with growth of just 1.7% in the next year.
This is the second quarter in a row when the CIPD’s survey of employers has anticipated a figure below the government’s official inflation target of 2%. It highlights how low inflation, expanding labour supply and the lack of productivity growth are working in combination to reduce the economic pressure for employers to pay their staff more.
In addition, the report finds that government-imposed increases in labour costs – such as the Apprenticeship Levy and increases to the National Living Wage will continue to reduce the scope for employers to raise pay for other workers, while the public sector continues to see wage rises kept to 1% or less.
The CIPD is calling on the government to be more interventionist in its support and work in partnership with business to help improve organisations’ productivity so they can improve salaries.
Mark Beatson, the CIPD's chief economist, said: "These findings show that employers remain confident about short-term job prospects, with many more expecting to take on new staff than expecting to shed staff as the UK ‘jobs miracle’ continues. For now, there’s no sign of the economy running out of jobs, or out of people to fill those jobs. However, the UK is now in its eighth year of productivity ‘go-slow’ which continues to limit the scope for employers to pay more and recruitment and retention problems have so far proved manageable without across-the-board pay rises. This survey provides no indication of this situation changing any time soon.
"On top of this, employers are having to manage the consequences of government-imposed increases to the cost of employing people. The National Living Wage and roll-out of pension auto-enrolment were introduced to improve the living standards of low-paid employees, but this can only happen without significant job losses if the productivity of low-paid employees also increases. Simply making low-paid labour more expensive is not the answer and the government shouldn’t be surprised if some employers choose easier options, such as reducing hours, chipping away at other benefits or making a less generous pay award the next time pay is reviewed.
“If the government is going to intervene in this way, these policies have to be accompanied by a more active approach to helping businesses cope with these changes and improvements to their productivity; for example by providing more practical advice and support for businesses.”
The CIPD is warning that some businesses lack the knowledge and capability to raise their game and are stuck in a cycle of low investment, low training and low ambition. This applies especially to small businesses who often need support with the basics of running a business and managing people before they can progress to planning for expansion or raising their efficiency. Larger businesses may need help to address unresolved productivity challenges, such as the high proportion of people over-qualified for their role.
Mr Beatson added: “It’s not good enough for the government to make these changes and say “over to you”. Instead they must play a more active role in supporting businesses, particularly given that we are likely to see further inflation-busting increases in the National Living Wage in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April is another addition to payroll costs for larger organisations in all sectors. The government needs to provide greater support and employers are going to have to be more and more creative in how they manage reward and motivate employees."