Pension strike hits Leicestershire and Rutland schools

An estimated 3,000 people joined a rally in the centre of Leicester

More than 330 schools in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland were shut as public sector workers went on strike over pension changes.

The three councils said the impact on other services was kept to a minimum.

Between 2,500 and 3,000 people, from 15 different unions, joined a rally which began on Leicester High Street.

Unison said more than 20,000 of its city and county members had been protesting.

About two million public sector workers across the UK walked out over planned changes to pensions and working conditions.

The government said that with people living longer, the cost of public sector pensions was rising and reforms were desperately needed.

At the scene

Tim Parker

BBC Radio Leicester

As drums, whistles and horns were brought out, it felt as much of a party as an angry protest, but you didn’t have to look hard to find those genuinely feeling aggrieved by what they called the government’s attack on their pensions and working conditions.

One college lecturer told me he’d never known his colleagues to be so angry, let-down and united in their strength of feeling.

Teachers to tax officials, police support workers to court staff gathered to show their support as the march moved off.

It was almost triumphant in its determination, winding through the shopping streets of Leicester.

Nicky Morgan, Conservative MP for Loughborough, said: “There is an offer on the table and negotiations ongoing. This strike is inappropriate and untimely.”

Keith Labetta, from Unison, was on a picket line outside Leicestershire’s County Hall.

He said: “We’ve been in talks with the government as much as we can and unfortunately we haven’t achieved what we need to.

“People need too demonstrate their anger about what’s being proposed.”

Chris Hanrahan, Unison branch secretary, said: “This is a difficult dispute for us, as our grievances are not with Leicestershire Police but with government ministers, we are left with no other choice than to join the day of action.”

Unions marched down Leicester’s High Street towards the Clock Tower, through the city centre and finished at the Athena theatre in Orton Square for an indoor rally.

Chancellor George Osborne urged unions on Wednesday to “get back round the negotiating table”, warning that the strike was “not going to achieve anything”.

The strike

The strike

Today my school was involved in the national strike; I did not strike but still had to go into school to do my contact time. I had to do 9 to 3. In this time I did the following

  1. Marking
  2. Emailing people
  3. Planning
  4. Organising the Christmas activities for the final few days
  5. Preparing for the Christmas assembly

The following is an extract from the BBC website about the strikes

Tens of thousands of people have joined rallies around the UK as a public sector strike over pension’s disrupted schools, hospitals and other services.

About two thirds of state schools shut, and thousands of hospital operations were postponed, as unions estimated up to two million people went on strike.

But Prime Minister David Cameron described the action as a “damp squib”.

Unions object to government plans to make their members pay more and work longer to earn their pensions.

The strike has had the following effects:

Why have strikes been called?

The government wants most public sector workers to:

  • Pay more into their pensions
  • Work for longer
  • Accept a pension based on a “career average” salary, rather than the final salary arrangement which many are currently on
  • The government says the cost of funding public sector pensions is “unsustainable” as people are living longer
  • Unions say the proposals will leave members paying more and working longer for less

What people said

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron said he thought the government had made a “very reasonable, very fair offer to public sector workers”. “I don’t want to see any strikes, I don’t want to see schools closed, I don’t want to see problems at our borders, but this government has to make responsible decisions,” he said.

Earlier, the prime minister’s spokesman said a small number of Downing Street staff had gone on strike, while others had been affected by school closures and some staff from the Downing Street policy unit were helping out at the borders.

Mr Cameron’s press secretary Gabby Bertin worked on passport control at Heathrow airport, along with a number of No 10 staff, Downing Street confirmed.

Speaking from Brussels, Chancellor George Osborne told BBC Breakfast that the “strike is not going to achieve anything” and will only “make our economy weaker and potentially cost jobs”.

He said unions should be holding talks with the government to resolve the pension dispute, rather than taking strike action.

‘Refused to negotiate’

But union leaders accused the government of failing to participate in proper negotiations in recent weeks.

Standing out in their suits, ties and smart overcoats, the headteachers took their place at the front of the march. It’s the first time their union, the NAHT, has been on strike for 114 years.

Chris Hill, head of Hounslow Town primary school, said all of the school’s staff were striking for the first time. “It’s not a decision we take lightly but we have to take a stand,” he said. Also among the thousands gathering in central London are paramedic staff, out for the first time since the 1970s.

Among the placards and balloons is a common message to the government: “Don’t work longer, and pay more to get less.”

The number of protesters joining the march delayed its start for almost an hour, and progress was slow.

They were watched by a huge number of police – with roads to the City blocked by barricades and Trafalgar Square ringed with a wall of steel.

The protest ended with a rally at Victoria Embankment – perhaps the cheers were heard a few hundred metres away in Downing Street.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said that the last time unions met Treasury ministers was 2 November, adding that “this idea that negotiations are continuing is just not true”.

Cabinet Minister Francis Maude disputed this claim, saying formal discussions with the civil service unions took place on Tuesday and that talks would take place with teaching unions on Thursday and with health unions on Friday.

A TUC spokesperson responded: “There have been informal exchanges but nothing that could be described as negotiations at the national level.”

Chris Keates, head of the teachers’ union NASUWT, said: “We’re in this position today simply because the government had not entered into genuine negotiations at an earlier stage.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said he had “huge sympathy” for people whose lives are disrupted by the strike.

But he said he was “not going to condemn the dinner ladies, nurses, teachers who have made the decision to go on strike because they feel they have been put in an impossible position by a government that has refused to negotiate properly”.

Liberal Democrat Party president Tim Farron told the BBC News Channel the unions were wrong to strike because workers on low to middle incomes would get a “better, or certainly no worse” pension when they retire than is currently the case.

‘Huge damage’

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the public sector was “under attack” by the government, adding that the action was justified.

“With the scale of change the government are trying to force through, making people work much, much longer and get much, much less, that’s the call people have made,” he said.