Scotland politics

Thousands of public sector strikers march in Scotland

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Media captionMarches are held by workers in towns and cities across Scotland in protest over changes to pensions

Thousands of workers have held rallies and marches throughout Scotland to mark the UK-wide public sector strike.

Industrial action by about 300,000 workers in Scotland has seen most schools and thousands of NHS appointments postponed.

Council body Cosla said 62% of local government staff went on strike with just a few dozen schools opening.

The strike was called over plans to increase the amount of money public sector workers pay into their pensions.

Some 10,000 people took to the streets in Glasgow and an estimated 7,000 workers marched in Edinburgh.

SNP ministers used a government debate at Holyrood to brand the pension plans a "cash grab".

With severe public spending cuts under way, the Westminster coalition has said the changes were needed to stop the pension system going broke.

STUC General Secretary Graeme Smith warned further industrial action could lie ahead.

He told the BBC: "I hope there's not going to be a protracted strike campaign, but I don't think anybody should be under any illusion over how strongly people feel about this.

"If the government doesn't see sense and doesn't get back to some serious and fair negotiations, then I'm afraid this may be just the start."

At Holyrood, MSPs debated an SNP government motion branding the pension changes a "cash grab for the purposes of deficit reduction rather than a move to secure the long-term sustainability of public sector pensions".

However, Labour and Green MSPs were also on strike and refused to cross the picket line and attend the debate in the Holyrood chamber.

Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney, told the BBC: "We have a long-term debate about the sustainability of pensions which I think is a fair and reasonable debate to have, but our prospects of resolving it satisfactorily have been contaminated by the short-term cash grab of the Treasury to increase people's contribution to their pensions."

Labour MSPs gave up a days' pay to stand on picket lines, despite the position of UK party leader Ed Miliband to neither condemn nor support the strike.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, said: "Thousands of my constituents are public sector workers - they'll be hit by this, asked to pay perhaps as much as £120 more a month and get less in their pension.

"They don't think it's fair and it's the right thing that I should support them."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie, added: "On a day like today, I don't think it's possible for a political party to be on the right side of the argument and on the wrong side of the picket line."

Scottish councils and health authorities have focused on providing emergency and essential services to the most vulnerable, meaning the closure of many community and daycare centres, libraries, swimming pools and galleries.

During the strike, which coincided with St Andrew's Day in Scotland, many people's bins went uncollected.

Local authority body Cosla confirmed that only 33 of the 2,700 council-run schools opened due to action by teaching unions.

About 42,500 teachers and associated professionals went on strike, amounting to 87% of the total teacher roll.

Most routine surgery and hospital appointments were postponed after an estimated 50,000 NHS staff decided to strike, but urgent operations have been going ahead and emergency services continued as normal.

The Scottish Ambulance Service has maintained accident and emergency response, while no disruption to police and fire and rescue services was expected.

NHS staff joined picket lines at hospitals and NHS sites across Scotland. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde postponed about 1,000 inpatient and day case procedures.

Edinburgh and Glasgow airports had been warned of disruption at passport control, after a decision by UK Border Agency staff to take part in the strike, although Aberdeen Airport said it was expecting "business as usual".

Scottish government-owned operator Highlands and Islands Airports was not disrupted, neither was First ScotRail, Network Rail and Lothian Buses.

However, the Glasgow underground was closed running, and ferries to and from Shetland were cancelled.

Unions which backed the action included:

  • Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS, resulting in mass school closures.
  • Civil servants represented by the PCS, including job centre staff, tax officers, Scottish government workers, Historic Scotland warders, pensions administrators, museums and gallery staff, benefits advisers, passport administrators, coastguard officials, fishery officers, driving examiners, courts and prison staff.
  • Picket lines at Faslane nuclear base, Edinburgh Castle, job centres, large tax offices, all main Scottish government buildings, the Scottish Parliament, the Glasgow passport office, the National Museum of Scotland and the Forestry Commission.
  • About 5,000 Prospect members taking action include veterinary scientists, cartographers, curators and conservators, environmental scientists, project engineers, forest research scientists, mechanical engineers, psychologists, botanists, librarians, safety inspectors, information officers, and scores of other specialist disciplines.
  • GMB members working in local government, the NHS and civil service.

PCS Scottish secretary Lynn Henderson, said: "The vital work carried out by public sector workers look after all aspects of our daily lives in Scotland.

"All of our members are committed to the public service and not one of them takes industrial action lightly."

A Cosla spokesman said earlier in the day: "Across Scotland, detailed contingency plans are in place to reflect the reality on the ground and address health and safety considerations.

"Trade unions recognise the need to provide emergency or essential services and have undertaken to negotiate local agreements with all councils that will protect these life and limb services.

"Nevertheless, communities should expect significant disruption. Services will be maintained, but may operate at a reduced level."

A Scottish government spokesperson said that health boards had confirmed that up to 2,000 non-essential surgical operations, diagnostic tests and other hospital treatments had been rearranged.

The spokesperson added: "Boards have also confirmed that around 18,500 routine outpatient appointments - such as check ups - have been rearranged for another day."

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