Why we are striking (Tracey Leith)

Shetland Islands Council workers are people who care for the elderly and vulnerable. We keep children safe,  we keep streets and parks clean, give housing help to those who need it, and give hope to young people with places where they can get advice, help or have fun. We run nurseries, leisure centres and libraries – the list is endless.

Many of us are low-paid women – inflation has been high, but we have a pay freeze meaning we are getting poorer while facing the prospect of further cuts to our terms and conditions, possible redundancies and cuts to services.

Our pensions aren’t a fortune but we pay into them to ensure a bit of decency and security in retirement. The average pension in local government is just over £4,000 a year, falling to £2,800 for women – that’s only £54 per week – in exchange for around six per cent of our wages. If we don’t save into our pensions then we’ll just be pushed on to benefits when we retire.

There is probably a council worker among your friends and family – none of us take the decision to go on strike lightly, but our pensions are important to us, and so are the services we provide. We don’t want to cause anyone inconvenience; we value and use the services we provide (our children go to school too). But we don’t have a choice – if we don’t act now then the value of our pensions will be cut away.

There is a pensions crisis in this country: millions of ordinary people have seen their pension schemes closed or restricted. They face an uncertain future, unlike Sir Fred Goodwin of RBS who has a pension of £13,500 a week.

That’s the real pensions divide in this country – between rich and poor – everyone, wherever they work, deserves a decent pension. We’re taking action to defend ours and to stop a race to the bottom that will mean poverty in retirement for everyone.

The schemes are not in crisis. The health scheme takes in £2 billion more every year than it pays out. This money goes straight to the Treasury, and will plough £10 billion into the coffers over the next 10 years.

The local government scheme in Scotland has funds worth more than £20 billion – equivalent to a fifth of Scottish GDP. It could pay out all its pensions for the next 20 years without a single penny more in contributions.

Health workers already pay between six and eight per cent of their salary into their pension, making a 3.2 per cent hike in contributions a massive hike for many. Staff helped deliver efficiency savings in Scotland £673 million over target last year. Some of this money could have been used to fund the £55 million it would cost the Scottish government next year for NHS staff.

Public sector pension schemes in Scotland have provisions to deal with real increases in costs, like members living longer. Not a penny of the money raised by contribution increases will go into pension schemes. They are simply a cash grab by UK ministers.

Workers covered by the Local Government Pension Scheme (Scotland) welcomed the decision of Scottish ministers not to increase contributions in the LGPS immediately. However, their pensions are still being cut by at least 15 per cent on retirement and other changes could result in them working longer for a smaller pension.

UK ministers could use their budgetary powers and/or UK legislation to force changes to pension schemes in Scotland. This is implied in a recent letter from Treasury minister Danny Alexander  to Scottish ministers.

The real pensions crisis is in the private sector – where two thirds of employers do not pay a single penny towards their workers’ pensions. It could cost this country up to £15 billion to support the millions of private sector workers who have been locked out of saving for their retirement.

Tracey Leith
Sletts Road,


Add Your Comment
  • adrian

    • November 22nd, 2011 19:50

    I will only ask one question,
    Do you honestly think that a strike is going to have such an effect as to reverse policy arrangements already in place ?

  • George Smith

    • November 23rd, 2011 12:56

    Why do council workers think they should be spared any impact from the general financial collapse? Apparently, 7500 British Army soldiers – men and women far more deserving of our support and sympathy than teachers and council workers – are to lose their jobs to save costs. Those who are simply seeing their pensions affected should be grateful that they are still in work – hundreds of thousands across the UK would envy them their position.
    Striking is never the answer.

  • Peter Smith

    • November 23rd, 2011 18:37

    Goodness me George where have you been? Council workers spared any impact…. how many has Mr Buchan got rid of so far? I also suspect that those self same soldiers you mention, and their colleagues who remain, will also see their pensions degraded.

    Tracey is absolutely correct, this is not about unaffordable pensions, but a simple money grab by politicians. They of course have the best pesions of all, but somehow didn’t feel the need to include their own scheme in the review.

  • David Spence

    • November 25th, 2011 15:14

    I am not so sure if the banks offer their employee’s a pension scheme, but I suspect after the billions these crooks have taken off the tax payer, there will be a few within the banking system who will, as has been mentioned by Tracey, be on a very lucrative pension of hundreds if not thousands per week……..yes, I said per week.

    It would also be quite interesting for those companies (banks included) who do their business within this country, but flout the tax laws and pay very little back into the country. I am intrigued if this Government is doing anything to tackle this massive problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Tory MP’s are board members of such companies, thus no action will probably be taken.

    In today’s world of ignorance by our so-called political representatives, sometimes drastic action is required to be heard…….as history has proven…..taking the ‘ soft approach ‘, has proved time and time again ‘ it does not work ‘.

    I am also intrigued by those people objecting or complaining about people going on strike, what would it take for them to go on strike or are they just sheep following the status quo regardless what action is being taken against them and how it will affect their lives, short or long term.

  • Craig Brown

    • November 27th, 2011 13:13

    Tracey has written a very interesting and heart felt article and I totally believe in the power of the union but unfortunately adrian has made an important point. My question is: How much is this strike going to cost the People/Tax Payer in the long run? Is it not going to push the money problems of this country further into recession which in turn is going to affect the common man/woman in a negative way. Regarding George Smith’s comments about the armed forces being more deserving of support and sympathy what a load of nonsense. Just because someone joins the forces doesn’t make them more deserving, unless you buy into this whole idea of billions being spent on arms/defence. In the words of Ian Dury ‘What a waste.’ Most of the people i’ve ever met in the forces leave the army and end up on the dole or in jail due to alcohol problems or post traumatic stress disorder.Most of these people join the forces because there’s no work opportunities for them in the concrete jungles and tenements of Scotland’s drug infested cities. Are they more deserving because they have no choice or are they more deserving because people keep spreading the myth that you’re a hero, a warrior brave for getting a bullet in your head when your 18 years old. Again like our pensions, these soldiers didn’t have a choice, the government made the desision for them to go to war and unless we realise that our lives are run and controlled by the minority, Britain’s always always always will be Slaves.

  • Kevan Brown

    • November 28th, 2011 17:03

    Tracey made an essential point at the beginning of her letter, when she said that she, and others like her care, and that is what their roles entail.

    To ask whether strikes solve anything these days, or if the powers that be take a blind bit of notice are all the sorts of statements which are seen as the only ones which matter now. However, such statements are the language of defeat.

    Whatever lies are peddled by Governments or businesses, the rich still grow richer and the poor suffer. We should applaud Tracey and her colleagues for taking a stand.

  • John Tulloch

    • November 28th, 2011 19:45

    Quite right Kevan.

    Let’s not forget that while directors of FTSE100 companies raked in an average pay rise of 49% last year, public sector workers are on a multi-year pay freeze with inflation running at over 5% a year.

    All those willing to take a 15+% pay cut please step forward and make yourselves known – your country needs YOU!

  • Charles McQueen

    • November 29th, 2011 19:31

    The simple fact of the matter is spending money you don’t have, like the Labour government did in the final few years of their tenure, is always going to end in disaster. I for one think that we all have to take our medicine on this one. Striking will do nothing but disrupt and inconvienience private businesses who are precisley the people that are going to get the country out of the mess we are in. There are of course many dedicated public sector workers who are hard working, efficient and provide good value for money but we all know that there are huge ineficiencies within the public sector which I as tax payer do not want to be paying for. For those who feel bitter at bankers bonuses and pensions I would suggest to you that you simply chose the wrong career.

  • Kevan Brown

    • November 30th, 2011 10:19

    Sorry Charles, the myth about what Labour did wrong is wearing thin now. The Tories have been feeding this nonsense to us, to justify their ideological belief that they’re right, and the rest of us are wrong.

    Businesses may well do a great deal to help. Some of them also got us into this mess, along with the bankers, speculators, and their ilk. One thread unites them; they won’t pay for the clean up operation.

    The poor have to do that.

  • Mark Counter

    • November 30th, 2011 11:13

    The assumption that spending more of the taxpayer’s money will make things better has survived all kinds of evidence that it has made things worse. Let the public sector share the misery of the private sector who’s pensions have collapsed thanks to greedy unregulated bankers and the failings of both government to do anything about it.
    The public finances are in a poor state, in simple terms we as a country are broke. In the 2009-10 financial year the budget deficit hit a record £155bn, meaning the Labour government spent significantly more than it earned from taxes. That meant the Labour government had to borrow money to fill the gap, adding to the UK’s growing debts. Total debt is expected to reach £900bn (70% of GDP) in the next few years. Big cuts to spending are therefore necessary to reduce the budget deficit and allow the government to start paying back its debts. The previous Labour government are responsible for many of the tax increases adopted by the coalition. The UK has been running a budget deficit for many years, financing spending programmes through borrowing.

  • John Inkster

    • November 30th, 2011 15:12

    Everyone appreciates that the majority of the public sector does an essential job. Without the teachers, nurses, doctors and other important services the country would not function as we know it, now or in the future. When I see the job many of them do here in Shetland, teaching and looking after the old for example, I am full of admiration at the fantastic job they do!

    How then can the country afford to keep everything as it was when we are as a nation predicted to be borrowing £1,400,000,000,000 by 2014/15. This figure I believe is what they call 1.4 trillion. That is well over £70,000 for every tax payer in the UK or £62 million for every man, woman or child in Shetland! Some very tough choices are going to have to be made in the future which I doubt the unions would ever support. They never appear to apprciate the scale of the financial problems we as a nation face.

    I really do fear that unless some tough choices are made the IMF or the like may well force some Greek type solution to our mounting finajncial problems if the markets decide we can no longer finance this growing debt. We have to live within our means or we will all regret it. The point at which this country can no longer pay back this debt may be approaching very soon. Then what?

  • David Spence

    • December 9th, 2011 14:47

    Isn’t it quite sad that the richest and most corrupt business of all the businesses that are in the country, the only ones which have been unaffected (in fact, they have made huge profits) are the banks……….the very same source which has caused the global recession in the first place.
    The Government borrowing too much…….what a load of rubbish…….more like the big fat cats in the banks taking on high risk investments in various industries (property, drugs (legal and illegal), weapons manufacturing (if the banks want to make more money……the just start a war….why do you think there have so many wars in the 20th century…killing over 200 million people) money laundering, fast food, food manufacturing via genetically modification……the list goes on…bankers and the people who operate such institutes truly are the personification of evil itself……you only have to look into their history to prove this point. Down with Capitalism.

  • Geordie Hunter

    • December 14th, 2011 3:41

    David Spence what an absolute load of rubbish. I think you have been reading to much conspiracy theories on the internet!
    99% of bankers work in call centres or branches on the same or worse money and pensions than the public services people who are no more or less deserving than any other worker. Surely a Trotskyist such as your self can see that. The 1% who are on these obscene salaries and bonuses are well aware of the scorn being poured on them, much of it from other bankers.
    Down with capitalism, fair enough. Then what?

  • steve barber

    • December 15th, 2011 12:26

    excellent letter from Tracey which i suipport totally – i am a Unison member in Cornwall and have worked for local authorities for the past 30 years, including 4 years in beautiful Shetland – what this is is an attack by the Tories on our pensions – nothing more complicated than that, and don’t forget that already our pay has been frozen for 2 years and now we can look forward to an increase of up to 1% for the next 2 years – and let’s ask the question of the government and the bankers, how would you feel about your pensions being raided?!


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