Public sector strikes impact on Comet country

TEACHERS, health workers and council employees took strike action today (Wednesday) over Government proposals to reform public sector pensions.

More than 50 schools across Comet country did not open to pupils, or were partially closed.

Councils had anticipated disruption to services, including refuse collections, but all Comet country local authorities reported minimal problems.

At Herts Country Council, an estimated 545 employees, excluding school staff, took strike action – that’s five per cent of the workforce.

“We planned ahead to protect essential services during any strike action, liaising closely with the unions which represent our workforce,” said Cllr David Lloyd, the council’s cabinet member for resources.

“Thanks to this forward planning, there was little disruption to our services.”

A spokesman for Stevenage Borough Council said: “While the strike action affected some services, the council worked hard to reduce the impact on customers and most services, including waste and recycling collections and the Customer Service Centre, continued to function.”

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Emergency services at Lister Hospital in Stevenage were reported to be unaffected by the industrial action, but some outpatient clinics were cancelled.

Nick Carver, chief executive of the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust – which runs Lister, said: “Well over 95 per cent of our staff were at work.

“Our theatres and wards, emergency departments and maternity services were open as normal.

“The vast majority of outpatient clinics went ahead as planned, with only a handful being postponed beforehand due to a reduction in some diagnostic services being available on the day.

“We also worked with local GPs, asking them to defer referrals to such walk-in services as x-rays.”

Under the Government proposals, public sector pensions will move from final salary to career average, employee contributions will rise, and workers will have to work longer.

Members of unions including Unison, GMB and teachers’ unions NUT and NASUWT took industrial action.

Oliver Heald, MP for North East Herts, said: “I think striking is wrong when you look at all the inconvenience it puts people through who are trying to live their lives. They should have seen where the negotiations got to before taking this action.”

He continued: “The economic situation is very difficult. This government was left with difficulties by the previous government and they are trying to stop us going the way of Greece and Ireland.”

Sam Older, regional organiser for Unison eastern region, defended the decision to take strike action before negotiations had been exhausted.

“The negotiations have been ongoing for nine months,” he said. “For eight months there had been no movement. Since they hadn’t moved, we put forward a mandate to ballot for industrial action.

“The day before Unison came back with the result, the ministers came back with improved proposals, but we had balloted our members and it wasn’t a firm offer from the Government.”

He continued: “They are asking public sector workers, who are already on a pay freeze and at risk of redundancy, to pay more into their pensions, to work for longer and then, when they actually get their pensions, they are going to receive less.

“We want to negotiate. We believe there are affordable alternatives.

“Why should public sector workers pay for the banking crisis? We don’t think it’s a fair deal.”