We will continue to strike over pensions’

SCHOOLS, a library, at least two town councils and refuse collections in Huntingdonshire were all brought to a halt yesterday – despite predictions beforehand that the disruption of the strike would be minimal. Spring Common School, in Huntingdon, was clo

SCHOOLS, a library, at least two town councils and refuse collections in Huntingdonshire were all brought to a halt yesterday - despite predictions beforehand that the disruption of the strike would be minimal.

Spring Common School, in Huntingdon, was closed with teaching assistants, admin staff and catering assistants picketing outside the school gates.

Speaking to The Hunts Post, from the picket line, Gayle Sefton, who works at the school, said: "They want to cut our pensions and make us work to 65, they don't want to change things for police or teachers so why change things for us? It's theft. We will strike all day and if they don't listen we will be striking again. I think a lot of people agree with us in principal even if they don't support our strike action."

Strikes also took place at St Neots Community College in Eynesbury, where the library was closed and evening classes cancelled after a number of teaching assistants, library staff, support staff and the principal's PA chose to strike outside the school gates.

Teaching assistants from Longsands Community College were also on strike led by Unison steward at the school Jim Bates.

Probation officers in Huntingdon were on strike outside the County Court offices at Goodwin House and the probation service office in Grammar School Walk in Huntingdon.

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Speaking outside Goodwin House, probation officer Grace Minns, who has been paying money into her pension for 15 years, said: "We want our pensions to be honoured. We have a very stressful job, we need early retirement. We are striking today to raise awareness and we are willing to support other one-day strikes planned in April if the Government fails to listen."

A spokesperson for Huntingdonshire District Council said: "The services in the region haven't been affected apart from the collection of recyclable waste which was cancelled and a slight reduction in staff.

"We would advise householders who did not get their bins emptied on Tuesday to have them ready at the kerbside before 6.30am on Saturday."

Maggie Hendrick, Unison regional officer for Cambridgeshire, told The Hunts Post: "There has been an impact on services across Cambridgeshire as the majority of local government staff in the region, about 200 people, took part in the strikes. I have been told that staff who stayed at work told people on the picket lines how difficult operating had been. Both St Neots and Huntingdon town councils were closed."

The so-called Rule 85 is at the centre of the protest. This allows staff whose current age plus years worked equals 85 or more, to retire at 60 rather than 65 on full pension.

The Government is planning to abolish the rule as employers say with increasing life expectancy, a rise in contributions from 1.5 per cent to two per cent would be necessary to finance it.

Eleven trade unions - including Unison, AMICUS, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the GMB - voted on March 14 to strike, after talks with the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott broke down.

Unison's Heather Wakefield said unions had been "pushed into this in order to demonstrate to the Government and the Local Government Association just how essential our members are".

Leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Tony Woodley said: "Three quarters of those workers are women, and it is no accident that the Government has chosen not to protect their pensions in the way it agreed last year for the civil service, the NHS, teaching and others.

"Tony Blair and his colleagues think low-paid women workers are a pushover. Well, he's got that wrong."

Outside the headquarters of Huntingdonshire District Council in Huntingdon employees from the housing and building departments were on strike as well as admin staff and leisure centre employees. Unison steward Ric Euteneuer said: "We have to show we are serious about the issue. If we are not listened to today, then meat inspections across the country will be on strike for the whole of next week."

A refuse collector on strike outside the Huntingdonshire District Council depot in Godmanchester, who has been paying into his pension for 22 years said: "We are in the same pension scheme as other civil servants yet we have been singled out to have to work longer and have our pensions cut on average by £10,000.

"Our job is quite stressful and involves a lot of lifting and manual work, which people just couldn't do at the age of 65. It's just not reasonable. Last year they listened because it was a general election but that does not mean they will back down this time."

Elsewhere in the UK, Northfield Airport was closed and Wirral commuters faced traffic misery as the Mersey tunnels were closed and ferries were cancelled.

Further strikes are planned for the end of April and meat inspectors across the UK could go on strike next week.

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