SCHOOLS across the region will close and other council and health services will be disrupted next Wednesday when public sector workers, including teachers, lecturers, clerical and manual staff, go on strike.
Local union leaders are confident of a high turnout for the national day of action in protest at the Westminster government’s plans to impose changes to their members’ pension schemes.
The decision to close all schools was made by Scottish Borders Council on Tuesday and, yesterday, the council’s deputy leader Alec Nicol told us: “In acknowledging that staff have decided to take industrial action, we would hope that essential services could be maintained and that there will no adverse impact on our most vulnerable residents.”
On the dispute, Councillor Nicol said: “The council recognises the plan to change pensions is a complex and emotive issue which we understand will be causing anxiety among our staff. We believe trades unions and the UK Government need to work together to identify a fair and equitable solution to end this dispute.”
He said the decision to close all schools was taken “having considered the safety and practical implications on Borders children, parents and staff”.
A meeting to discuss contingency plans for other council services was due to take place yesterday afternoon, with details due to be posted on the SBC website – www.scotborders.gov.uk – in the days ahead.
“Teachers and lecturers in the Borders will be joining our public service colleagues in other workplaces in a day of industrial action on Wednesday,” confirmed Kay Miller, local secretary of the main teaching union the EIS.
“We don’t want this strike, the first national strike by teachers for a quarter of a century, but we have been driven to this by continuing cuts in public services and sustained attacks of the living standards of public sector workers.
“We hope parents, students and the wider Borders community will support us and understand we are taking this action as a last resort.
“Teachers and lecturers are continuing to do their best to provide a quality education under very difficult conditions, but now their goodwill is being eroded by continuing attacks on their employment terms and conditions.
“The latest government attack on pension provision will force all teachers to pay more, work longer and get less at the end for their pension.
“One effect will be an average 3.2 per cent cut in pay due to increased employee pension contributions. At a time of rampant inflation of over 5 per cent, this equates to a real term pay cut of well over 8 per cent for every teacher and lecturer in Scotland.
“This comes on top of a current two-year pay freeze and other impending cuts to terms and conditions.
“We believe our school pupils and further and higher education students deserve the best, but this cannot be delivered on the cheap. There must be proper investment in our public services and fair pay and conditions, including pensions, for those who deliver them.”
Eck Barclay, a council employee who is senior workplace representative of Britain’s largest union Unite, claimed the planned pension reforms would leave public service workers 15 per cent worse off in retirement.
“Council workers in the Borders paying into their pension for 35 years can currently expect on average a pension of about £7,000 if you a full-time worker and £3,000 for part-timers who are predominantly women – hardly ‘gold-plated’ as David Cameron and his cabinet claim,” said Mr Barclay.
“We are thus urging our members locally to support the strike and show the government that public sector workers are not prepared to pay the price for the mistakes made, through greed, when the banking industry collapsed.”