Official figures reveal council staff, civil servants and NHS workers earn on average £2.12 more per hour than their counterparts in the private sector.
However, overall annual wages for public sector workers have fallen below those of employees in private firms for the first time since the banking crisis in 2008.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), public servants were paid an average of £16.28 an hour in April 2013, the equivalent of just over £38,000 if they worked a 45-hour week.
By contrast, average private sector wages were £14.16 an hour, which would provide just over £34,100 working the same hours. But because private sector employees work on average four hours a week more than those in the public sector their annual pay is on average higher across the UK.
The figures also showed that, in Scotland, annual public sector pay still outstrips private sector pay by 1.9 per cent.
The ONS said the biggest pay difference in favour of public sector workers was in Northern Ireland at 14.7 per cent – compared with London where staff in private firms earned 7.7 per cent more. The statistics showed the growing gap in favour of the private sector in London and the south-east of England, with 2.5 per cent, had changed the balance in the UK as a whole.
The unadjusted figures showed that in most regions and nations the public sector still does better, with 10.5 per cent more in the north-east of England, 8 per cent more in Yorkshire, 7.4 per cent more in the north-west of England, and 7.9 per cent more in Wales.
The figure for the south-west was 6.1 per cent, for the East Midlands 5.7 per cent more, for the West Midlands 5.9 per cent and for East Anglia it was 4.6 per cent more. The reason for the regional differences was that public sector workers on low pay earned more than low-paid employees in private firms. But the position was reversed when comparing high earners.
The figures have led trade union leaders to claim that UK coalition policies are unfairly penalising the public sector, which has seen a reduction in size since 2010, while more than a million jobs have been created in the private sector.
Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Years of freezes, real-terms pay cuts and rounds of redundancies have left public servants facing a sharp squeeze in their living standards.
“Top earners in the private sector enjoy a huge wage premium over the public sector, but the lowest-paid private sector workers do even worse than their public sector counterparts.”
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, the biggest public sector union, said: “The pay freeze and squeeze has hit public service workers hard, leaving many struggling to get by. The pay cap, coupled with inflation, means that for many workers the value of their pay has fallen by 16 per cent since 2010.”