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Date: Fri 25 January 2008

Minister 'worse than Forsyth' in failure to protect staff pensions

The refusal by Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, to step into the row over the botched transfer of the Traffic Scotland transport information system to the private sector, may lead to a large financial compensation claim from the transferring staff, UNISON claimed today.

Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government agency responsible for the service, have refused to accept their responsibilities under Cabinet Office guidance to ensure that the pension provided by the new operators is comparable to the staff's existing provision.

The union also cast doubt on whether the system, due to transfer from Glasgow City Council to a range of private firms today (Saturday) will be able to operate effectively in the short term, as over half the operators involved have either managed to move to other jobs in the council, or have left the service rather than transfer under these conditions.

Mandy McDowall, Regional Organiser for UNISON, said "Despite UNISON's consistent attempts to contact Stewart Stevenson since December, he has refused to meet or even respond to us, leaving his agency managers to try and wriggle away from their clear responsibilities to provide equivalent pension coverage for the staff they want to deliver this essential service.

"It is now clear that the Minister intends to allow the transfer to take place with no thought about the thousands of pounds in lost pensions that staff face. Even Michael Forsyth ensured that staff transferring to the private sector had pensions protected, so it is appalling that Mr Stevenson has washed his hands of these people. Many of them have long service providing safe traffic systems for Scotland, but this apparently counts for nothing with the Minister and his agency."

UNISON will now be taking legal advice on the submission of a claim to compensate the staff forced to transfer under these conditions. Given the long experience and service of the staff, this could run into many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The union also points out that the lack of protection has led to many experienced staff applying for other jobs within the council, or even leaving their jobs, in order to avoid the transfer. This may have serious implications for traffic, public safety and Police support in the short term.

Chris Stephens, UNISON's Land and Environmental Services Convenor, in Glasgow said "It is hardly surprising that when people are being treated so shabbily, they don't want to work under such conditions. The number of staff transferring has now dropped, and we believe that numbers are likely to be made up by untrained temporary staff. This cannot be the way to maintain a safe and effective service."


Notes for editors:

1) Around 15 staff were due to transfer this weekend from Glasgow City Council, which used to hold the contract for the service, formerly known as NADICS, to Atkins. This has now dropped to 8 - only 6 of whom are controllers. Requests to postpone the transfers have been rejected by Transport Scotland

2) Most will transfer to new contractor Atkins, with managers moving to Transport Scotland and others moving to SERCO, which holds an IT part of the contract and to Amey, which holds another part of it.

3) Staff affected are available for interview. To arrange this, please telephone one of the contacts at the end of the press release.

4) Protocols covering Public Private Partnerships over staff transfers, and Cabinet Office Guidance on staff pensions apply to this situation, on top of TUPE regulations.

5) The NHS Building Division was outsourced by the last Conservative Government to WS Atkins (the contractor's previous name). The contract required a GAD (Government Actuarial Department) certified comparable pension scheme.

For Further Information Please Contact: Chris Stephens (Land/Env Servs Convenor - Glasgow UNISON 07818 487 060(m) Mandy McDowall (Regional Officer) 07903 846 427(m) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0771 558 3729(m)