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Civil servant ‘sick’ at pension erosion as thousands walk out on Budget Day

A striking civil servant has told how he gets a “sick feeling in the bottom of his stomach” due to the erosion of his pension, as he joined thousands of colleagues and university staff across Scotland walking out on strike.

John Jamieson, of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union’s national executive committee, told a joint rally with members of the University and College Union (UCU) at the Mound in Edinburgh on Wednesday that thousands of workers are being forced to use food banks as they struggle to make ends meet.

Hundreds of striking workers and supporters staged the rally on the same day as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his Budget.

Mr Jamieson said 47,000 members are currently earning “so little” that they need to claim in-work benefits such as universal credit.

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He told the rally: “Twenty-five thousand of our members in the Department for Work and Pensions, some of whom have 40 years’ service, are currently on less than what the legal minimum wage will be in April. If they were to retire now, they would get below minimum wage final salaries.

Industrial strikes
The joint rally was held on the Mound (Jane Barlow/PA)

“The average civil service pension is actually around £3,000-4,000. No gold-plated pensions there.

“Until (former prime minister) Liz Truss took office for a whole six weeks, I had some confidence that the government guaranteed civil service pensions.

“Now I just get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I’ve worked almost 40 years for a Tory chancellor to say: whoops, sorry, we lost your pension.

“With 47,000 members paid such low levels of pay they require in-work benefits and 40,000 of our members telling us they have had to use food banks, the reality is: enough is enough.”

More than 130,000 members of the PCS joined picket lines across the UK on Wednesday in a dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and conditions.

The strike includes workers in UK Government departments as well as some in the Scottish Government and at many of Edinburgh’s museums and galleries.

Civil servants were offered a 2% pay increase which has been roundly rejected by unions.

Also walking out on Wednesday were around 8,000 members of the UCU at 17 universities across Scotland as part of an ongoing dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions.

Striking workers
Hundreds of striking workers and supporters joined the rally (Jane Barlow/PA)

Elaine Newton-Bruzza from the union’s University of Edinburgh branch said staff are “dead tired” and “fed up” with taking strike action.

She added: “I started teaching here while I was doing my PhD on one of those sketchy contracts we’re up against.

“Although I got very lucky and moved on to a permanent contract, it only covers 10 months of the year.

“Working in higher education can be isolating and the working conditions we deal with can be demoralising, we are dead tired and fed up at having to strike.

“I’m striking because I believe all members of our sector deserve equal pay.

“I have to squeeze 12 months of work into 10 months, a situation that will only lead to burn-out.

“Burnt-out workers can’t give students the quality education they deserve.”

University staff are also in dispute with Universities UK and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) over what they claim is an “erosion” of pensions.

Striking workers
PCS and UCU members staged the joint rally on Budget Day (Jane Barlow/PA)

A spokesperson for Universities UK on behalf of USS Employers said: “The improvement in the financial position of the scheme, and particularly the dramatic swing from the situation it was facing only a year ago, has been remarkable.

“While the wider economic climate remains challenging, the current funding position is good news for USS scheme members and employers alike.

“Rapidly rising interest rates were a big driver of that improvement, but the benefits changes made in April 2022 also played a significant part in stabilising the scheme’s finances.

“Employers were always clear that should the situation markedly improve, then we would work with the trustee on how those benefit changes might be reviewed at future valuations.

“We are pleased to have continued to have collaborative and constructive talks with the union at the joint negotiating committee on our shared commitments for the future of the scheme.

“With the support of the USS trustee we have been making significant progress in these areas and look forward to continued constructive negotiation with the UCU.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Industrial action should always be a last resort, and discussions continue at official level with civil service unions.

“We urge them to recognise what is reasonable and affordable, as the whole country faces these cost-of-living challenges.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said his party wanted to show “absolute solidarity” with the PCS, with his MSPs staying away from Holyrood to avoid crossing the picket line.

He added that the Scottish Government “should have learned from the Welsh Government” and not attended Parliament on Wednesday.

“I think it reflects badly on the Scottish Government, the wider SNP, but also on those individual ministers who are going to be going into Parliament today, pretending that the workforce isn’t on strike,” Mr Sarwar said.