Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Public sector strike to be 'largest for a generation'

Public sector workers around the UK are staging a strike over pensions in what unions say could be the biggest walkout for a generation.
Thousands of schools are closed and hospital operations have been cancelled. Courts and government offices are among disrupted services.
Prime Minister David Cameron described the strike as a "damp squib".
Unions object to government plans to make their members pay more and work longer to earn their pensions.
The strike is having the following effects:
  • Department for Education figures suggest more than half (58%) of England's 21,700 state schools are closed, with another 13% partly shut
  • In Scotland, 33 of the 2,700 council-run schools are believed to be open, says local authority body Cosla, while in Wales 80% of schools are shut. In Northern Ireland, just over half of about 1,200 schools are closed
  • Plane arrivals and take-offs at Britain's two biggest airports - Heathrow and Gatwick - are said to be largely unaffected with only a few cancellations of in-bound transatlantic flights to Heathrow
  • In Northern Ireland, no bus or train services are operating
  • Unions estimate about 300,000 public sector workers are on strike in Scotland while 170,000 workers in Wales are taking action
  • NHS managers say about 6,000 out of just over 30,000 routine operations have been cancelled across the UK as well as tens of thousands of appointments
  • BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith tweeted: "(Health Secretary) Andrew Lansley says patients who have ops cancelled today will still be seen within 18-week limit."
  • South East Coast Ambulance Service says it is now only responding to "life-threatening emergencies"; London Ambulance Service tells BBC London it is "struggling", is unable to respond to many 999 calls and prioritising life-threatening cases
  • Union leaders say although court staff are taking action, the trial of two men accused of killing of teenager Stephen Lawrence will not be disrupted
  • Just 18 job centres out of more than 900 across the UK have closed, according to the cabinet office
  • Demonstrations are taking place across the UK, with thousands joining marches in places including Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds, Exeter, York, Gateshead and Aberdeen
  • Scotland Yard said 37 protesters detained in east London at about 10:00 GMT had now been arrested on suspicion of breach of the peace
  • Four arrests were made ahead of a march now under way in London - two for assaulting an officer and two for possession of a weapon
  • BBC political correspondent Mike Sergeant tweeted: "Strong police presence + metal cordons in Trafalgar Square. Interesting new tactic. To stop any attempt to occupy?"
Video from around the UK
Unions say up to two million public sector workers are to take part in the strike but the cabinet office said early indications showed significantly less than a third of civil servants taking part in the action.
At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron said he thought the government had made a "very reasonable, very fair offer to public sector workers".

Why have strikes been called?

The government wants most public sector workers to:
  • Pay more into their pensions
  • Work for longer
  • Accept a pension based on a "career average" salary, rather than the final salary arrangement which many are currently on
  • The government says the cost of funding public sector pensions is "unsustainable" as people are living longer
  • Unions say the proposals will leave members paying more and working longer for less
"I don't want to see any strikes, I don't want to see schools closed, I don't want to see problems at our borders, but this government has to make responsible decisions," he said.
Earlier, the prime minister's spokesman said a small number of Downing Street staff had gone on strike, while others had been affected by school closures and some staff from the Downing Street policy unit were helping out at the borders.
Mr Cameron's press secretary Gabby Bertin is working on passport control at Heathrow airport, along with a number of No 10 staff, Downing Street confirmed.
Speaking from Brussels, Chancellor George Osborne told BBC Breakfast that the "strike is not going to achieve anything" and will only "make our economy weaker and potentially cost jobs".
He said unions should be holding talks with the government to resolve the pension dispute, rather than taking strike action.
'Refused to negotiate' But union leaders accused the government of failing to participate in proper negotiations in recent weeks.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said that the last time unions met Treasury ministers was 2 November, adding that "this idea that negotiations are continuing is just not true".

At the scene

Standing out in their suits, ties and smart overcoats, the headteachers took their place at the front of the march.
It's the first time their union, the NAHT, has been on strike for 112 years.
Chris Hill, head of Hounslow Town primary school, said all staff there were striking for the first time.
"It's not a decision we take lightly but we have to take a stand," she said.
Also among the thousands gathering in central London are paramedic staff, out for the first time since the 1970s.
Among the placards and balloons is a common message to the government, "Don't work longer, and pay more to get less."
Cabinet Minister Francis Maude disputed this claim, saying formal discussions with the civil service unions took place on Tuesday and that talks would take place with teaching unions on Thursday and with health unions on Friday.
A TUC spokesperson responded: "There have been informal exchanges but nothing that could be described as negotiations at the national level."
Chris Keates, head of the teachers' union NASUWT, said: "We're in this position today simply because the government had not entered into genuine negotiations at an earlier stage."
Labour leader Ed Miliband said he had "huge sympathy" for people whose lives are disrupted by the strike.
But he said he was "not going to condemn the dinner ladies, nurses, teachers who have made the decision to go on strike because they feel they have been put in an impossible position by a government that has refused to negotiate properly".
Liberal Democrat Party president Tim Farron told the BBC News Channel the unions were wrong to strike because workers on low to middle incomes would get a "better, or certainly no worse" pension when they retire than is currently the case.
'Huge damage' TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the public sector was "under attack" by the government, adding that the action was justified.
"With the scale of change the government are trying to force through, making people work much, much longer and get much, much less, that's the call people have made," he said.
Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union members who work for the UK Border Agency have gone on strike but airport sources suggested to the BBC that immigration controls were at two thirds of normal staffing levels - more than the 30-50% predicted previously.
Public sector workers demonstrating in Newcastle Public sector workers have begun a march in Newcastle
A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "Early signs show our contingency plans are minimising the impact of strike action, but waiting times at some ports may still be slightly longer than normal."
The Immigration Services Union says 80% to 90% of staff are striking, with 22 out of 23 workers at Calais port not showing up for work and, as far as they are aware, none of their members working at Heathrow.
Lucy Morton from the union said queues at Heathrow were "not that significant" due to reduced flight capacity, adding it would have more information when the next shift was due to turn up for work at lunchtime. The ISU has 4,500 members out of a workforce of 6,000.
Gatwick's chief operating officer Scott Stanley said: "Whilst passengers have so far not experienced delays at the border zones we do expect delays to occur at some point today as the rate of arriving flights increases."
Simon Walker, of the Institute of Directors, told the BBC News Channel the strike was doing "significant damage" to the economy.
"If you're damaging the productive capacity of this country you're really doing huge damage to the fabric of the economy and that will last a long time and impact on all of us," he said.

taken from

No comments:

Post a Comment