Freezing public sector pay and giving NHS workers less than they deserve is “picking the pockets” of the mainly female workforce who have done so much during the pandemic, according to a union leader.

TUC president Gail Cartmail said the way the Government was treating public sector workers “says so much about Tory values”.

She told the annual TUC Congress in London: “The fact that in 2021 women effectively work the first 64 days of the year for free makes my blood boil.

“So let’s take inspiration from the women’s suffrage movement – now is the time for ‘deeds not words’.

“During the pandemic many have seen the disproportionate impact of lockdown on carers, mostly women. A brief look at our history shows this is not a new challenge.”

Ms Cartmail, as assistant general secretary of the Unite union, said over the past year, the trade union movement has again proved to be a force for good.

“The TUC and all our affiliates worked to support our incredible vaccination programme – delivered not by the private sector, but our wonderful NHS.

“Vaccines developed by our brilliant scientists and academics, many of them Prospect and UCU members, and administered by our members in the NHS.

“Combined our unions represent the UK’s biggest, democratic mass movement – we are a movement of, and for, working people and it was union health and safety reps who knuckled down safeguarding workers at the height of the pandemic.

“They fought to ensure workers had the correct PPE; negotiated Covid-secure work practices and exposed negligent employers.”