Unions threaten wave of strikes this winter unless pay freeze axed
THE UK could be gripped by a wave of strikes this winter, after the trades union movement’s annual congress voted to carry out co-ordinated industrial action if talks over a pay freeze break down.
Delegates at the TUC congress in Brighton yesterday voted unanimously to back the proposal by public-sector union Unison, whose leader, Dave Prentis, claimed that the coalition had “declared war on our people”.
Scotland’s job centres, tax offices, passport control services and driving test centres could all be among the services hit by any strikes in the dispute with the UK government.
However, the strike could also paralyse services run by the Scottish Government, with a senior union official warning that as many as 50,000 public-sector workers north of the Border could be involved in the dispute.
Cheryl Gedling, a Scottish rep with the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union national executive, told The Scotsman that strikes in the NHS and local council services this winter were “very likely” unless the Scottish Government abandoned its own public-sector pay freeze.
Any co-ordinated action would take place after a planned day of demonstrations on 20 October in some of the UK’s biggest cities, such as Glasgow, London and Belfast.
The UK government has frozen public-sector pay for three years, with ministers insisting that the policy is vital to help drive down the budget deficit.
Mr Prentis said yesterday: “It’s a coalition which has declared war on our people – our people face a three-year pay freeze, with living standards slashed, while the rich and powerful remain untouched.
“If employers refuse to negotiate, if the attacks continue, we will deliver the co-ordinated action. This is the time for action.”
Ms Gedling claimed the SNP government had followed the UK coalition’s pay freeze for the past two years, as she called on finance secretary John Swinney to abandon the policy.
She said: “The vote at conference was very significant for Scotland, as it’s Scottish ministers who decide on a pay freeze.
“We’ve had two years of a pay freeze, and the Scottish Government has got to say whether it will continue with this. Scottish ministers have chosen to follow the UK line. At congress, we’ve seen a demonstration of how angry people are and strikes are very likely.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman when asked about calls for a general strike in protest
at the government’s austerity programme, said: “Obviously, we think strike action benefits no one.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government indicated last year that having had two years of pay restraint for all employees apart from those earning less than 21,000, we hope to move into a period of modest pay increases.”
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