Council offices, schools and health services to shut as 50,000 strike over pensions

6
Have your say

SCHOOLS, nurseries and council offices across the Lothians will grind to a halt next week, union leaders have warned, when public sector workers walk out in the largest industrial action in a generation.

More than 50,000 workers in the region will strike on Wednesday as part of a row with the UK Government over pension reforms.

Unions have said every primary and secondary school is expected to close after teachers voted to walk out for the first nationwide strike in 25 years. Council departments including benefits and housing are set to close and bin collections are unlikely to go ahead.

Elsewhere, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, St John’s Hospital and the Western General will all run a Sunday service, meaning only emergency surgery and a handful of outpatient services will operate.

Around 300 operations would normally take place on the average Wednesday, but Jackie Sansbury, head of NHS Lothian, said the health board stopped making appointments for that day some time ago.

Chemotherapy and renal dialysis are among the treatments that will not be affected. Ms Sansbury added: “We have planned ahead for the industrial action to make sure that, as far as possible, patients are not disrupted or inconvenienced.”

Paramedics will operate an emergency-only service, although the Minor Injuries Clinic at the Western General will remain open.

Although the BMA doctors’ union is not striking, GP surgeries are expected to be affected as nurses and support staff are.

Cover will be put in place by non-union members or those essential workers who are not striking to provide emergency services.

Lecturers from Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier, Heriot-Watt and Queen Margaret universities and colleges across the Lothians will also strike.

Local authorities in West Lothian and Midlothian have told residents to prepare for school closures and significant disruption.

Edinburgh City Council and East Lothian Council said all schools will close next Wednesday.

Many strikers will picket their workplaces before thousands join a march to the Scottish Parliament.

Tom Waterson, Unison branch chairman for Lothian Health, who is co-ordinating the march through Edinburgh, said: “The ballot vote for teachers and support staff was huge and I would be very surprised if any school in the Lothians will be open next Wednesday.

“Elsewhere, council nurseries, leisure centres, courts, benefits offices, bin collections and government offices are all expected to close as a result of actions from the unions.

“With regards to NHS Lothian, services that would normally not operate on a Sunday will be closed, with a few exceptions being cancer care, radiotherapy, dialysis, which will go ahead without any disruption.”

The row centres on reforms which will see state employees increase their contributions to pensions by 3.2 per cent on average and work for longer.

The unions have stressed that the dispute is not aimed at local authorities or the NHS but at Westminster. Mr Waterson added: “This is a political dispute with the UK Government and not the Lothian health board or local councils.

“That 3.2 per cent increase in contributions will go straight to the Treasury, that’s tax a levied against our members, that’s why were striking. That and being asked to work until you’re 68.

“Our members are not being greedy, they are standing up for themselve.”

The Educational Institute of Scotland said if the reforms go ahead teachers will have to pay 50 per cent more in contributions every month and still retire with a smaller pension.

Edinburgh branch secretary Alison Thornton said: “There is a perception that local government pensions are very generous and we would argue that is not the case. Balloting to strike has not been an easy decision for our members but they are being asked to work longer, pay 50 per cent more in contributions every month and walk away with a smaller pension.”

Des Loughney, secretary of the Edinburgh TUC, claimed public sector pension reform would pave the way for reforms to state pensions.

He said: “The Edinburgh trade union movement welcomes the support of the people of Edinburgh in the fight for a decent pension.

“We think that the fight for our pension is part of the fight for a decent state pension for everyone. If we lose you can be sure the Government will attack state pensions too.”

On the picket lines

Council

Affected

* Housing and benefits

* Bin collections

Unaffected

* ‘Life and limb’ support for council clients

Education

Affected

* Primary schools

* Secondary Schools

* Council nurseries

* College and university lectures

Health

Affected

* Elective surgery

* GP surgeries likely to close

* Disruption to district nurse visits

* Paramedics to attend blue-light emergencies only

Unaffected

* Chemotherapy and renal dialysis

* Emergency surgery

* Minor Injuries Clinic