Public sector strike hits Sunderland services

Members of the University & College Union picketing at St. Peters Campus, Sunderland this morning.

Members of the University & College Union picketing at St. Peters Campus, Sunderland this morning.

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STRIKING public sector workers brought major disruption to schools, colleges, courts, and Government offices across Wearside today.

Thousands of parents found themselves having to find extra childcare after more than 50 schools shut their doors for the day.

While picket lines were manned by angry civil servants and lecturers taking part in the UK’s biggest strike in five years over proposed pension reforms.

Lecturers from Sunderland university’s St Peter’s campus and staff from Gilbridge House tax office were protesting from early today.

Picket lines were also formed at Shackleton House, Waterview Park, Washington and Waterside House at Sunderland Enterprise Park in Southwick, while members of the Department of Work and Pensions at the former Dawdon Colliery site in Seaham, also protested.

Teachers from across the city belonging to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) headed to Newcastle this afternoon and joined members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) on a march through the city centre.

Sociology lecturer Pete Rushton, from Sunderland University, was on the picket line today.

He said: “I think people in their 40s and 50s are watching this with great trepidation and mistrust.

“I will have the benefit of the previous system but people who are in their 20s now are really going to suffer. They are the real victims.”

The unions are fighting the proposed changes to public sector pensions which they claim will see people working longer, paying more and getting less when they retire.

The Pension Reforms include raising the retirement age for state employees from 60 to 66 by 2020, final salary schemes will be scrapped and replaced by career averages and ministers will get more powers to raise employee contributions.

Steve Storey, chairman of the Sunderland University branch of the UCU, said the support for today’s action was strong in the city.

He said: “All the people who I’ve been talking to say they are not coming in.

“Everybody is suffering but the institute of physical studies says these pensions are affordable and the Government is saying something else.”

Union members from Dawdon’s Department for Work and Pensions office, where 350 staff - 80 per cent - are members of the PCS, also formed a picket line.

Security checking officer Alan Robinson, 35, said: “In terms of pensions it will cost me an extra £63 a month at a three per cent raise right across the board. It will make a huge impact.

“I might have to leave the pension scheme because I won’t be able to afford to pay it, which is against the object of what the Government is trying to get us to do to prepare for the future.

“I can’t really afford the luxury of thinking about the future and need to think about how to live now.

“If anybody should know about the importance of pensions, it’s us working here.”

PCS regional chairman of pensions Judith Leighton was also at the picket line.

The 48-year-old said: “I’m going to have to pay an extra £40 a month and I’m going to lose £16,000 of pension because I will be working until I’m 66.

“Before, I could have retired at 50 but I would have worked until 60. Now it’s 66.

“My nana and granda had a cottage on this pit site. I think he would be turning in his grave about this.”

PANEL

THE strikes are set to have a major impact on the city.

•Schools

Two thirds of schools and nurseries across Sunderland and Durham are expected to be affected today.

They will either be closed or partially closed because of striking staff.

Around 55 per cent of school staff will be striking.

- Colleges and universities

•SUNDERLAND university has today closed its doors.

City of Sunderland College and East Durham College has also been affected by the walk out.

Colleges have said exams set for today will still go ahead.

- Job centres and benefit offices.

•WEARSIDE job centre today closed their doors.

The majority of the 4,500 union members at job centres across the region are expected to strike today.

It is not expected to have an effect on the processing of benefits.

- Driving tests

•THE Driving Standards Agency is urging all driving test candidates booked to take a test today to attend as usual, saying they will be given a new date if there is a cancellation because of the strike.

- Courts and prisons

•ALL courts are expected to severely affected.

Court staff, as well as those who transport prisoners, are involved in the action, threatening cancellation of cases or delays to trials.

•PRISON officers are also expected to hold lunchtime strike meetings and may refuse to work after.

•Airports

Immigration and customs staff will strike, leading to the prospect of lengthy queues and delays for travellers.

Contingency plans are in place to keep any disruption to a minimum.

•COASTGUARDS

The strike includes maritime search and rescue workers.

Members of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency staff are also expected to stage a walk out.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has said frontline rescue staff will not be affected.