THOUSANDS of Scottish civil servants employed by the UK Government and its agencies have been on strike over Westminster threats to their pensions. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) estimates that about 30,000 public servants in Scotland took part.
The strikers included workers at the Scottish Parliament, courts and at the passport office in Glasgow. Civilian employees at defence establishments, including HMS Naval Base Faslane, also supported the action. Although some workers at Scottish airports joined the protest, no significant delays for travellers were reported. In addition, the UK Government believes that about one in five of the UK’s 500,000 civil servants are on strike.
Though the Scottish Government is not directly involved, The Scottish Finance Secretary, John Swinney, called on both sides to reconsider.He “urged” Westminster to “re-consider its policy on increasing contribution rates in the manner proposed at a time when members of the public face real and immediate financial pressures”.
But he also opposed a stoppage that would affect the general public. Mr Swinney told the unions: “There is not a case for industrial action while these negotiations are ongoing.“Such action will only damage the delivery of the public services on which the people of Scotland depend.”
Civil servants were angered when Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, pre-empted the outcome of negotiations by saying that most public employees staff would have to work until they were 66.But in a Holyrood debate earlier this month, John Swinney argued:”At a time of a public sector pay freeze, rising inflation, increases in National Insurance contributions, higher VAT and significant rises in fuel prices, and at a time when consumer confidence is low and we need to kick-start the economy, we believe that it is wrong to require employees to increase their pension contributions.
“We think it is a short-term policy primarily geared towards deficit reduction that will have significant and negative implications on the long-term retirement provision of some of the lowest-paid individuals in our society.”
On Thursay, Grahame Smith, the General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, addressed at a rally of strikers in Glasgow.
He said: “I will not apologise, and no worker should apologise, if they have a final salary pension scheme and they can retire before they are 65.
“These attacks on public sector pensions are a cash grab to fund a deficit caused by greedy bank bosses, financial speculators and the politicians who let them away with it.”
The Westminster Government is proposing that public sector workers retire in future at 66, which would mean up to six years longer in the workplace for some employees. Under the reforms, better-paid staff would also have to pay up to an extra 3.2 per cent of their earnings into their public sector pension schemes in 2014.