"I am extremely disappointed trades unions have decided to press ahead with their industrial action. The only people who will suffer as a result of this will be all the people who rely on local government for a whole range of vital public services." - TOM MCCABE - FINANCE MINISTER
Story in full MORE than 200,000 public sector workers across Scotland are due to take strike action today in a pensions protest that will close schools, bring public transport to a halt, disrupt emergency services and leave bridge tolls uncollected.
Union leaders have called the action - expected to be the largest mass walkout since the 1926 general strike - to try and force the government to reverse plans to end a scheme allowing council workers to retire at 60 without a pensions penalty. As the full extent of the likely effect of the action became clear, with up to a million workers expected to walk out across the UK, union leaders in Scotland ignored an 11th-hour plea from Executive ministers to call off the action and return to talks.
Matt Smith, the Scottish secretary of Unison, said: "We are expecting a major impact on services across the country. If anything, it might be bigger than we anticipate - workers are very concerned about the future of their pensions."
He said subsequent days of action were being discussed by the unions involved, which have organised rallies and marches across the country today.
Five unions with members in local government are taking part in the strike - Unison, the TGWU, GMB, Amicus and the National Union of Journalists. They are protesting against the abolition of the "rule of 85", which allows those in the local government pension scheme to retire without a penalty at 60 if their age and service total at least 85.
Tom McCabe, the finance minister, said that the Executive had discussed its proposed removal with the unions and offered to work with them and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in an "earnest search" for a solution. "I am extremely disappointed trades unions have decided to press ahead with their industrial action," he said. "The only people who will suffer as a result of this will be all the people who rely on local government for a whole range of vital public services."
Pat Watters, the president of COSLA, said he sided with council workers in their pensions dispute with central government, but added that he had "no sympathy" with the strikers and apologised to the public who depend on local government.
Business leaders attacked the action. Sir Digby Jones, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said last night: "It's selfish. It's divisive. It's hitting those who'll be hurt the most - it's trade unionism at its worst. The government has given unions all the ammunition they need to say that current pensions arrangements are divisive, by its craven surrender in letting their nationally employed colleagues continue to retire at 60.
"Private-sector employers and their staff have had to get real and recognise that longer life expectancies and the rising cost of providing pensions mean longer working lives."
Teachers are not joining the strike, but the stoppage will result in tens of thousands of children in Scotland being forced to stay at home as schools close because of a lack of support staff. Primary schools will be the worst affected, while some secondary schools will be able to stay open and schools built under private finance initiatives will be unaffected.
Transport is likely to be disrupted in Edinburgh, where drivers at Lothian Buses are part of the local government pension scheme, and in Glasgow, where the Subway system as well as Buchanan Street Bus Station will be closed. In the islands, some ferry services are set to be cancelled. Rail services and airports should be unaffected, but Scots hoping to fly to France today may find flights suspended because of strikes on the continent.
One of the few benefits will be that commuters may find tolls are lifted on the Tay and Forth road bridges, where workers are expected to strike. Road maintenance work will also be hit and parking attendants in some areas are on strike, although not in Edinburgh, where the service is in the private sector. The capital will allow parking in certain areas to relieve traffic.
Social services will be hit across Scotland, although basic care for the elderly or disabled will be maintained and emergency care will continue.
Police services will be restricted and firefighters will attend only emergencies because of a lack of support staff. Some district courts will be closed.
Libraries, museums, art galleries and swimming pools will be closed. Bins will be left unemptied and householders who put out rubbish today may be forced to wait until the environmental services are back tomorrow.
Other council services that will be affected include burials, cremations and pre-booked marriages.
Council-run waste and recycling centres are likely to be closed, as will public toilets, community centres, housing offices and recreation centres.
Scottish Water and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors floods, will also be affected, as will the care homes watchdog body, the Care Commission.
Councils back retention of 'rule of 85'
COUNCIL leaders claimed last night there was no need for Scotland to follow the UK government in abolishing immediately the "rule of 85" - under which staff can retire without a penalty at 60 if their age and length of service add up to 85.
Scottish council sources said that, unlike their counterparts in England and Wales, they were not facing a local government pensions crisis.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister - responsible for local government south of the Border - says the rule has to be abolished because it breaks European Union anti-age discrimination law and because taxpayers cannot afford it.
In Scotland Tom McCabe, the finance minister, has said he has acted to end the rule on legal advice that the Executive would be in breach of European laws.
Scotland's councils support workers' claims to be treated the same as other public sector staff, such as teachers, who can retire on full pensions at 60. Councils say the 11 local authority schemes could make payouts for several years. In that time, they would work to secure the long-term future of pension funds.
Mr McCabe said that, even if the courts in England threw out a union challenge to the UK government's position, the Executive would note that the rule's withdrawal created "an anomalous situation compared with other public sector schemes".
How the dispute will affect you
ABERDEENSHIRE: All 176 schools in the area closed. Swimming pools, community centres and recreation centres closed. Day care services expected to be hit.
ABERDEEN: No refuse collection. The council's duty social work team only available to deal with emergency cases. All housing offices, community learning centres leisure facilities and public libraries closed (with the possible exception of Aberdeen Central Library).
ANGUS: All eight secondary schools in the area closed, along with 22 primaries and four nurseries. Four resource centres closed. No day care for the elderly at three centres.
ARGYLL AND BUTE: Ferry services disrupted; 17 schools closed or only partially open. Disrupted refuse collection and roads winter maintenance.
BORDERS: At least 21 primary schools and six high schools closed. No school meals at schools remaining open. Possible disruption to refuse collection, recycling centres, street cleaning and public toilets.
CLACKMANNANSHIRE: All schools and nurseries except one closed. Disruption to waste collection, local housing offices and libraries likely.
DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY: At least 27 schools and nine nurseries closed. Severe disruption to refuse collection. Some exemptions for key services. Two learning centres closed.
DUNDEE: The Tay Road Bridge will be toll-free (with traffic restrictions on the bridge removed at midnight to allow the free flow of traffic). All schools closed and city council offices and facilities likely to be closed. No waste collection.
EAST AYRSHIRE: All schools and nurseries closed. No refuse collection. Only key emergency services provided.
EAST DUNBARTONSHIRE: All schools and public buildings closed. Refuse collection postponed until the weekend.
EAST LOTHIAN: All East Lothian secondary and primary schools open, but small sections within schools might close.
EAST RENFREWSHIRE: Schools chiefs expect schools to open as normal. Social work managers still assessing effect on services such as home care. Bins being emptied.
EDINBURGH COUNCIL: All Lothian buses affected. Motorists on the Forth Road Bridge should expect delays. Twenty early years/nurseries, 41 primaries and 13 secondary schools closed or partially open. At least 34 community centres and most leisure services closed. Reduced refuse collection.
WESTERN ISLES COUNCIL No council-run bus services. Many council offices and two schools will be closed. No refuse collections.
FALKIRK COUNCIL: All primary, secondary, and special schools closed except four built under PFI. All leisure and sports centres and housing neighbourhood offices closed. No refuse collection.
FIFE: One nursery and 17 schools to close and school meals disrupted. 29 community centres to close and all social work offices likely to close. No refuse collections.
GLASGOW: All primary, nursery and special educational needs schools, as well as family learning centres, closed. Likely closure of other public buildings, including galleries and museums, sports centres and social work offices. No refuse collections.
HIGHLAND: About 5,000 workers expected to join strike. Ferry services to be disrupted. Eleven schools and nearly 50 nurseries closed or partly closed. No burials or cremations, no refuse collection and some public toilets will be closed. A number of libraries and community centres will also be closed and day care services likely to be affected.
INVERCLYDE: All primary and secondary schools will be closed, although S5 and S6 will be asked to attend. All nurseries closed except four. Waterfront centre in Greenock and Port Glasgow pool closed.
MIDLOTHIAN: All schools will be closed except two.
MORAY: Only one secondary, Lossiemouth High School closed. Five primary schools closed.
NORTH AYRSHIRE: Secondary schools only open for fourth, fifth and six year pupils. No domestic waste or recycling collection. Council-run emergency services will operate but severe disruption expected to all routine services.
NORTH LANARKSHIRE: Day care centres for older people, and people with a learning or physical disabilities closed. A limited service will be in operation by social workers. Special education schools closed. All pre-booked activities at sports centres cancelled.
ORKNEY: Most day care centres and three schools closed. Library and swimming pool in Kirkwall closed.
PERTH AND KINROSS: All council offices and facilities closed to the public. All primary schools, secondary schools, council nurseries closed. All civic amenity sites, libraries and museums closed.
RENFREWSHIRE: All secondary schools open for S4, S5 and S6 pupils only and all special schools closed. Most social work services and projects closed to the public or drastically reduced. Reduced level of home care services available.
SHETLAND ISLANDS: Most scheduled inter-island ferry services expected not to operate. Two secondary and six primary schools closed. No general gritting of roads in the islands and no refuse collections.
SOUTH AYRSHIRE: All schools closed.
SOUTH LANARKSHIRE: All council establishments including offices, sports centres, and libraries closed. Schools and nurseries closed. Refuse collection postponed.
STIRLING: Several primary schools will be closed. No waste or recycling collections.
WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE: Primary schools, early education and childcare centres closed to all pupils. Secondary schools closed to all S1, S2, S3 and S4 pupils. Museums, libraries and community centres all closed.
WEST LOTHIAN: Twelve nursery schools, four primary schools and four special schools closed. No waste collection.