Schools and health services affected by major British public service strike

Thu, Dec 1, 2011, 00:00

HUNDREDS OF thousands of British public-sector workers went on strike yesterday in protest at plans by the coalition government to force them to pay more to pensions and work longer, claiming this would see pensions reduced substantially.

All bar a handful of schools in Scotland, 85 per cent of schools in Wales and two-thirds in England were fully closed, with another 13 per cent in England described as partially closed, after both teachers and – for the first time – headteachers left their posts.

Fears that the 24-hour strike would cause chaos at British airports rescinded after airlines encouraged passengers to fly on other days.

Thousands of elective operations at National Health Service hospitals were cancelled, while ambulance services in many parts struggled, dealing only with emergencies in some districts. During testy exchanges in the House of Commons, prime minister David Cameron, said the Labour Party would be disappointed that the “irresponsible and damaging strikes” had turned out to be a “damp squib”.

Last night the cabinet office said 900,000 out of two million public-sector workers went on strike, including 146,000 out of more than 450,000 in the civil service. It added that 85 per cent of the NHS had turned up for duty. However, the unions disagreed vehemently with the figures, with Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lectures saying they were “wildly inaccurate”.

In a sign of unity within the coalition, Liberal Democrats MP Simon Hughes complained about the failure of some unions to brief members properly on a recent compromise offer. He said: “I think that – until the additional money was put on the table – the teachers’ unions and teachers had a strong case that they might be disadvantaged. I don’t think everybody has understood the implication of the further offer made.”

Mark Serwotka of the Public Commercial Services union, which represents mostly low-paid public staff, said: “They said this day would never happen but this is the best day for the trade union movement in generations. The strikers are an inspiration.”

He added: “The message is that if you don’t negotiate with us we will do this again. should go in to work tomorrow with their heads held high.”

Ministers and unions disagreed bitterly about the negotiations taking place, with Downing Street publishing a calendar of the meetings that have taken place in recent weeks, while the unions argue there have been no contacts with the ministers most responsible for the issues since early November.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that workers, both public and private, will have suffered a 7.4 per cent fall in incomes in the four years to the end of 2013 – not including the impact of extra pension contributions now being sought from those in the public sector.