AFL-CIO President George Meany yesterday criticized President Carter's decision to place a 5.5 percent lid on federal pay raises next year as part of the administration's new anti-inflation policy.

Meany said that the president has promised no wage and price controls, a decision Meany applauded, but then took a step that smacks strongly of wage controls.

The President's pay cap is "completely unfair to these government employes," Meany said. "You can't place the responsibility for the high price of food on these employes. They're not responsible for rising energy prices."

Meany, speaking to the legislative conference of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, said that Carter should reconsider the restrictions on federal pay raises, at least for the time being.

But Meany's criticisms of the president's anti-inflation program were mild. He aimed some jibes at Barry Bosworth, director of the Council on Wage and Price Stability, saying that Bosworth's recent statement suggest that the council wants to interfere in collective bargaining.

"Labor, I am sure, will cooperate in trying to fight this matter of inflation," Meany said. "We are sufferers." But the labor chief vowed that "under no circumstances will we take part in a process that sets up government interference with collective bargaining."

He denied that wages have anything to do with the recent wave of inflation.

The basic factors behind rising prices are the spiralling costs of food, energy, health care and land, as well as high interest rates. Meany termed the latter the "number one villian.

He criticized the president for not mentioning interest rates in his anti-inflation speech last week. The president's policy seeks to enlist business and labor cooperation in moderating wage and price demands enough to knock a half percent off the inflation rate next year.

In another development, the Federal Reserve Board said that factories operated at 82.9 percent of capacity in March, up from 81.9 percent in February. The March rate is still below December's 83 percent level.