Schools close as strike begins
HUNDREDS of school pupils will be forced to stay at home today because of a national walk-out of local authority workers.At least 16 schools in Suffolk have shut their doors to some or all pupils while staff take part in industrial action over Government changes to their pensions.
By Danielle Nuttall
HUNDREDS of school pupils will be forced to stay at home today because of a national walk-out of local authority workers.
At least 16 schools in Suffolk have shut their doors to some or all pupils while staff take part in industrial action over Government changes to their pensions.
Eight libraries plus two mobile libraries will also close while a further seven libraries will only be open for part of the day.
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The strike action, which will involve up to 5,000 local authority workers in the county, will also see all day centres for adults with learning disabilities close, apart from the John Turner House Short Break centre in Lowestoft.
But school buses, household waste sites, emergency road works and residential care homes for the elderly will operate as normal.
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Suffolk County Council said in most cases, it had been possible to ensure adequate cover by re-arranging staff workloads.
Sue Sida-Lockett, deputy council leader, said: “This is a national issue about the terms and conditions of the Local Government Pension Scheme, and it is a shame that services in Suffolk are being affected by this.
“We have tried to make sure there is as little disruption as possible to the services we provide, but would ask the public to bear with us if it takes a bit longer than normal to deal with things.”
The industrial action involves 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.
It is in protest at the Government's proposals to remove a so-called 85-year rule that 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.
Greg Grant, regional secretary of Unison eastern region, the largest union involved, said: “Obviously we would much prefer to be talking about a deal. The members generally speaking are pretty reluctant to take industrial action if it can be avoided.
“But they feel so strongly about what has been done to their pension. We have tried to minimise the disruption as much as we can. Our branches have agreed to allow exemptions to happen.”
But there are few signs of the issue being resolved in the near future and further strike action will take place if a deal is not struck.
Last night Martin Goold, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “The reason why schools will be closing in these circumstances is where the support staff including caretakers are on strike conditions in schools cannot be guaranteed to be safe.
“We are advising all our headteacher members not to take risks with the health and safety of staff and pupils. If there are any examinations going on the NUT and all the unions involved will make special efforts to make sure the examinations are not affected.
“The union in principle supports the campaign for better pensions and are against public sector pensions being worsened.”
Staff at Connexions - which offers support and advice to teenagers in work and school - are also preparing a picket line for today's strike.
Karen Shurety , recruitment advisor for the company, confirmed that about ten members of staff had organised a picket line outside their office in Bury St Edmunds.
“I think the fact that this is the largest national strike for so many years shows the strength of feeling over the proposals,” she said.
Local authority workers are preparing to take part in a rally today which will see them march through Ipswich to the Town Hall, where they will be addressed by speakers.