THOUSANDS of public sector workers are on strike today, disrupting government departments, Jobcentres, courts, tax offices and driving test centres.
Pickets were out at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the National Museum of Scotland and Scottish Government buildings across the Capital as civil servants staged a 24-hour stoppage over jobs, pay and pensions.
The Budget Day walk-out by members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union marks the start of a UK-wide programme of rolling industrial action.
Union leaders said they expected 250,000 – 30,000 in Scotland – to take part in today’s strike.
Last year, Finance Secretary John Swinney announced an end to the public sector wage freeze, but a cap of one per cent on pay rises – well below inflation.
PCS Scottish secretary Lynn Henderson said the union was pressing for a five per cent pay rise.
She said: “We call on Scottish ministers to reflect on what sort of Scottish public sector they want: one that is properly resourced to deliver for the people of Scotland or one that is decimated by cuts, a Scotland that is a decent place to work with fair pay or one where staff are beaten down and demoralised by low pay and constant job threats.
“The choice is in the hands of Alex Salmond and John Swinney who have to stop hiding behind Westminster’s will – the Scottish Government is in control of Scottish public sector pay and should negotiate with the unions to give our members the fair pay that they deserve.”
Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie backed the strike. He said: “SNP ministers have imposed a further real terms pay cut which, along with increased pension contributions, means yet further raids on the pockets of people working to deliver the public services we all depend on. The Scottish Government likes to blame the UK Coalition but we have the power in Scotland to end this unfair squeeze.”
Some MSPs stayed away from parliament today in support of the strike, but business went ahead, unlike Wales where both Labour and Plaid Cymru politicians refused to cross picket lines, forcing all meetings at the Welsh Assembly to be rescheduled.
Historic Scotland said it did not anticipate any disruption to visitors at its attractions despite today’s action.
The Scottish Government said it had arrangements in place to ensure essential business continued. A spokesman said: “The UK Government sets the terms of Civil Service pensions across the UK – current devolution arrangements leave no role for Scottish Ministers in that process. The Scottish Government believes that public service pensions must remain affordable, sustainable and fair for public service workers and the communities they serve.”
UK Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude condemned the strike as “futile, counterproductive and irresponsible”.
PCS plans a further half-day stoppage on April 5 to coincide with the end of the tax year and other forms of industrial action over the next three months.