Strikes shake Crow Country

STRIKES hit this week with teachers, health care professionals and public sector workers walking out in protest at government plans to reform pensions.

Hospitals and councils were affected, with some running reduced services after trade unions called for Wednesday’s industrial action.

Teaching unions took action with many schools in and around Royston closing.

Local government workers also walked out, but North Herts District Council said there was very little disruption to services – and South Cambs District Council managed to complete bin collections.

County councils were also hit with David Lloyd, cabinet member for resources at Hertfordshire County Council, commiserating with workers but disagreeing with industrial action.

“An estimated 545 members of non-schools staff are known to be on strike, which is around five per cent of the workforce. We have planned ahead to protect essential services during any strike action, liaising closely with the unions which represent our workforce,” he said.

“Thanks to this forward planning, there is little disruption to our services. Wherever there is any partial disruption, we are prioritising according to the needs of the most vulnerable clients.”

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There were picket lines outside Lister Hospital, Stevenage, and Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge.

Two marches from Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Shire Hall, home to Cambridge County Council, congregated at Parker’s Piece to show their solidarity in the biggest public sector walkout since the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1978-79.

Rob Bode, senior health care worker, said: “I have never considered striking before but I feel I have to be punched in the face repeatedly or fight back.

“Arguing over whether we get a two or three per cent pay rise is not important to me. But the NHS pensions were reformed a few years ago to make them sustainable for the future. It’s not just the people here affected, it’s every NHS worker and public sector worker now and for years to come.”

The proposals could see public sector workers pay more into their pensions and work for longer as the government says the cost of funding public sector pensions is unsustainable as people are living longer.

Negotiations with unions were ongoing when the strike ballot was called, a decision that does not sit well with Royston’s MP Oliver Heald.

He said: “I think it’s wrong to go on strike when negotiations are ongoing. It’s a bit unnecessary particularly as the conditions were good before the last offer and now it is a much improved offer.

“I think striking is wrong when you look at all the inconveniences it puts people through when they are trying to live their lives.

“They should have seen where the negotiations got to before taking this action.”

Sam Older, regional organiser for Unison eastern region, said: “There are obviously proposals which haven’t come to firm offers from the ministers, which are not favourable for public sector workers.

“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.”