Sunday, 26 March 2006

They've picked the wrong fight on pensions

Speech to Edinburgh pensions Rally 28 March 2006: This morning, several of us here went to St Andrews House to see and deliver a letter to Tom McCabe, the Scottish Executive Minister for Finance and Local Government Reform. The man who says he's going to cut your pension rights in Scotland.

Our letter told him that the arbitrary decision he made about pensions undermined everything the Executive had said before about valuing the work of local government staff, delivering first class public services - very often in very difficult circumstances.

We told him that it made us wonder if the Executive really did value that work. We told him we had been open and transparent. We had shown him our legal advice on the rule of 85. But he still won't show us the advice he says contradicts this.

But it's not just our legal advice, it is also Cosla's - our employers - this must be the first time we've been on strike and our employers are 100% behind us!

And we demanded that he abandon the plans to remove the rule of 85 and give our members the common decency of being able to actually get the benefits they've paid for over the years.

And don't forget - we have paid our dues. We have paid every week, every month into this pension fund - even when the councils took a holiday and paid nothing for years.

And can I save a word for the press? All the papers seem to have suddenly found columnists ready to call local government workers 'greedy' and 'lazy' and not in touch with the real world.

Well I'll show you lazy. Fat cat pensions for top industrialists that work a few hours a week in directorships? An index linked MP or MSP's pension? Or a home carer dedicating their lives to looking after others, being forced to work on rather than retire.

What about greedy? Millions of pounds worth of golden handshakes for top managers who are sacked for being crap at their jobs and losing their companies millions. Or the average pension for our women members of just £31 a week?

And not in touch with the real world? Sitting in an air conditioned office, travelling first class, getting a free car and all sorts of tax breaks - or humping bins around at six o clock in the morning and being told you'll have to do that till you're 65 before you get the pension you paid for?

We are not lazy. We are not greedy and we are only too much in touch with the real world of low wages, shortage of resources and more and more pressures trying to deliver the best services we can.

Some of these columnists should get out a bit more and they might find the real world right under their noses!

Home carers, road workers, refuse workers, social care workers, nursery nurses, cleaners, social workers, workers who protect our environment, our health and our safety, who look after the most vulnerable, who educate who care and who work damn hard to do all this - all of the essential jobs in local government - forcing them to work till they drop, or take cuts in the pensions they have paid into all their lives is not fair, is not reasonable, is not in the interests of public services - and is frankly a damn disgrace.

You've shown you think that too. You've shown you are prepared to fight. And you've shown the politicians they've picked the wrong fight here. "

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