28/03/2006

Council pension strike hits services

More than a million council workers in the UK have participated in a 24-hour strike over a pension dispute.

The strike, the biggest block of industrial action in Britain since the 1926 General Strike, involves staff from leisure centres, refuse services, school staff, including cooks, cleaners and office staff, street sweepers and traffic wardens. The strike will also affect the Probation service, the Meat Hygiene service, housing associations, occupational therapy and other social services.

There has been widespread transport disruption across the country because of the strike, including the closure of the Mersey Ferries, the Thames Barrier and the Metro in Newcastle. Unison also said that 650 schools had been forced to close in the northern region. School across the country also closed, along with sports centres and libraries.

Police control rooms and council offices have also been affected.

However, union claims that a million and a half workers had participated in the strike were dismissed as "wildly optimistic" by the Local Government Association.

The strike is being held over plans to scrap the so-called Rule 85, which allows council staff to retire at 60 if their age and length of service adds up to 85 years.

The unions involved, including Unison, T&G GMB and Amicus, have warned that further strike action could take place over the next few weeks.

Commenting on the strike, T&G General Secretary said: "The T&G, in common with every single union representing workers covered by the local government pension scheme, is determined that the government will not succeed in downgrading the pensions provided by the scheme to employees in local government and other fields.

"Three quarters of those workers are women, and it is no accident that the government has chosen not to protect their pensions in the way it agreed last year for the civil service, the NHS, teaching and others.

"Mr Blair and his colleagues think low-paid women workers are a pushover. Well, he's got that wrong. Our members in the local government pension scheme are angry and shocked at this treatment from a Labour government, and they're not going to put up with the sort of sexism, which would class them as second-class pensioners."

Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: "Our members have taken the decision to strike very seriously indeed. They are not selfish people, they are not using any excuse to call a strike and have a day off - they are asking simply for what they have paid for and what they deserve.

"Strike action is the only option left to local government workers to demonstrate the burning resentment and anger they feel over the government and employers taking away their pension rights – when those same rights have been given to every other public-sector pension scheme. Why should they put up with this discrimination?"

(KMcA/SP)

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