Council staff set for massive strike

THOUSANDS of local authority workers in East Anglia are set to walk out on March 28 after unions nationally voted in favour of strike action in a long-running row over pensions.

By Danielle Nuttall

THOUSANDS of local authority workers in East Anglia are set to walk out on March 28 after unions nationally voted in favour of strike action in a long-running row over pensions.

The walk-out will involve unions representing workers ranging from school dinner ladies and refuse collectors to architects, school assistants and police support staff, and will represent the largest spell of industrial unrest since the 1926 General Strike.

Unions announced yesterday their members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in protest at planned changes to their civil service pension scheme.

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It will see more than one million of the country's most essential public sector workers stage a national walk-out.

Greg Grant, regional secretary of Unison eastern region, the largest union involved, said the industrial action could involve up to 5,000 local authority staff in Suffolk, and around 7,500 in mid and north Essex.

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He said: “It will be large scale disruption. It is to make a point. The members are really unhappy about the fact their pension entitlement has been taken away from them.

“There is hope we can reach an agreement before March 28. If we cannot we will be looking at other days of action.”

The unions are protesting against the Government's proposals to remove a so-called 85-year rule which allowed council workers to retire at 60 on a full pension if their age and years of service added up to 85 years.

They claim that under the planned change, people would only be able to retire at 60 on a worse pension, forcing them to work for another five years.

The average local government pension is worth £3,800 a year, below the average of other public sector schemes.

Councils were unable to say how the strike would effect services in Suffolk yesterday.

Sue Sida-Lockett, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “This is a national issue about the terms and conditions of the Local Government Pension Scheme.

“We simply apply these conditions to our local scheme here in Suffolk. We hope this issue can be resolved nationally as quickly as possible.

“In the meantime, we will be making sure that there is as little disruption as possible to the services we provide.”

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which has 197 Unison members, said its management team would be meeting Unison representatives to discuss possible effects on its services.

“Based on that discussion, we will then plan to make sure that essential services continue if a strike goes ahead,” she added.

A spokesperson for Waveney District Council said it too was unsure of the overall impact on the strike on services.

“Nevertheless, the council will sit down with the unions to negotiate proposed exemptions to the strike with the aim of limiting disruption as much as possible,” the spokesperson added.

Essex County Council's cabinet member for central services, Norman Hume, said: “We trust the situation will be settled as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we're considering every option available to ensure potential disruption to services is kept at an absolute minimum.”

Eight trade unions released their ballot results yesterday, which showed an average of four to one in favour of industrial action.

The ballot results were announced following the failure of last-ditch talks between unions and employers and the Government to break the deadlock in the dispute, which has been rumbling on for years.

Chief Superintendent David McDonnell, Head of Operations at Suffolk police, said: “This strike action will only involve police staff and not police officers. We have been aware of the planned action for some time and have been making contingency plans.”

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: “The Government is committed to decent and secure pensions for local government employees. These must be affordable, viable and fair to taxpayers, who guarantee their security.

“Any ballot in favour of strike action is entirely a matter for the trades unions. ODPM wants to continue holding meetings as planned, to discuss necessary reform of the LGPS with all interests, including the unions.”

nWhich local authority workers will strike?

The industrial action will affect civil service staff in several areas including social workers, planners, police control room staff and police support staff, home helpers, meals on wheels services, parks, amenities including leisure centre staff, accountants, lawyers, teaching assistants, highways departments including road gritting, architects, Environment Agency staff, dinner ladies and refuse collection.

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