by Caroline Colebrook
AROUND 200,000 local government employees in Scotland took part in a 24-hour strike over pay last Wednesday, affecting refuse collection, libraries, swimming pools, day-care centres, ferry crossings and town hall services.
And joining them were around 5,000 PCS members.
They are protesting at Government attempts to impose a 2.5 per cent pay deal over the next three years. As such this strike is part of a wave of massive public sector strikes against below-inflation pay rises that is happening all around Britain.
Wednesday’s local government striking workers are members of Unison, GMB and Unite and their protest is directed at Cosla – the Scottish local government umbrella group.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Our members are taking this action very reluctantly. They care deeply about the vital services they provide and those who depend on them and we apologise for any disruption.
“However, members feel they have no choice when the employers’ offer is effectively a pay cut.”
The strikers mounted picket lines outside several council headquarters. Union members also distributed leaflets to commuters at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station and a midday rally was held at George Square in Glasgow.
Michael Cook, speaking for Cosla, claimed the local governments could not afford above inflation pay rises. He said: “The issues are difficult and complex and need to be carefully thought through.
“However, as soon as possible, we will arrange talks with the trade unions in a bid to reach a settlement which takes account of the soaring cost of living which affects councils just as much as our workers.”
John Swinney, Finance Secretary of the Scottish Parliament, stood aloof and urged “both parties to try to resolve the dispute to ensure that there is no further interruption to public services”.
But the unions hold him responsible for failing to give the local authorities adequate funding to cover the much needed wage rises to address low pay.
PCS members are angry that Scottish Ministers have imposed a two per cent pay increase on their own workforce in the Scottish Government, which is in effect a pay cut whilst inflation spirals beyond five per cent. This is a rise of only £4.20 per week for those PCS members earning £16,500 in the Scottish Government.
Since 31st July, PCS members have been participating in an overtime ban and working to rule, which, as the Scottish Parliament prepares to return from recess will begin to slow down Ministers’ abilities to deliver key priorities in the session ahead.
PCS is also now balloting its members in the Sheriff and High Courts, and the Procurator Fiscals’ Department who, if they vote to join the strike campaign later, would bring Scotland’s justice system to a halt.
Eddie Reilly, PCS Scottish Secretary hit out at Scottish Ministers: “Low paid civil servants are not the cause of inflation – they are the victims. Salmond and Swinney can’t stay in hiding for ever.
“Ministers need to face up to their responsibilities in this dispute. It seems to be the case with Scottish Ministers that when the going gets tough, the tough go into hiding.”