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Public sector unions strike over pay and pensions
UNIONS say they are not holding out hope that the government will take action after a mass walkout of thousands of public sector workers across the county.
Some teachers, public office workers and firefighters supported the action which came amid a row over conditions.
Union members drew picket lines outside council offices, the Department of Work and Pensions and the Land Registry office in Weymouth.
Refuse collectors, school support staff, cleaners, street sweepers, care workers, nursery assistants and social workers, are among those who have walked out. Unions are calling for a £1.20 per hour pay rise, to bring the lowest level of pay in local government and schools to the Living Wage.
They are calling on the Local Government Association to re-consider its refusal to get back into talks or go to the Government’s conciliation service ACAS.
Andy Woodgate, PCS branch chairman at the Land Registry office, said: “We had about a 75 per cent turnout – so about two thirds of union members were out. The fact that David Cameron has responded makes us hopeful.
“But I don’t think he’s really going to listen. But the point is, enough is enough. We have got to make a stand.”
Mr Woodgate said the action was part of a ‘rolling programme’ of strikes and although the next stage of industrial action has not been announced, union members will be striking again once it is.
Tim Nicholls, branch chairman for PCS at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Weymouth, said: “I think there will be little achievement from today.
“The government will once again try to deceive the public when it comes to the number of workers that were on strike – counting people who are sick and away as working. So getting results will require more action.
“It’s getting ridiculous.”
He said there are two main reasons for DWP staff striking – a one per cent pay freeze and the eradication of the pension scheme. He added: “There is no alternative in place, no other scheme in place and the one they have proposed is worse.”
Teachers decided to strike for a number of reasons, including the size of classes, with Dorset seeing the sharpest rise in the south west of classes of more than 30 children.
Simon Bowkett, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for South Dorset, said: “The government is failing our young people by cutting funding, removing the regulations that prevented over-crowding in our classrooms and allowing unqualified teachers to teach our children.”
He added: “All four of my children attend local state schools, and I know that other local parents will want to know their children are being taught by a qualified teacher in reasonable class sizes. What these new figures reveal is that the job of teachers in Dorset is being made harder and harder as class sizes increase.”
Dorset Waste Partnership said brown bins due to have been collected in Weymouth yesterday will be picked up today. Green bins will be collected tomorrow.
STEAM TRAIN HIT BY INDUSTRIAL ACTION
ONE of the more unusual repercussions of yesterday’s public sector strike was the effect on an historic train excursion due to steam into Swanage station.
Surrey-based Steam Dreams, who run the Cathedrals Express, were set to run a train from London Victoria to Swanage.
However, because Dorset firefighters from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) were supporting yesterday’s walkout, Network Rail ordered the company to replace the steam locomotives with diesel engines.
Steam Dreams confirmed they were barred from operating a steam locomotive on the mainline.
A Network Rail spokesman told the Dorset Echo: “Whenever there have been fire strikes in the past one of the repercussions is that we cannot allow steam trains to run on the network.
“In the days when the railway was largely operated by steam, the trains kept all the trackside vegetation cut back because, basically, they kept setting fire to the stuff.
“Today most of our trains, on our much greener railway, are diesel or electric, and we have many trees trackside. Unfortunately, this means steam trains do pose a bit of a fire risk.
“Normally, to accommodate steam enthusiasts but it does mean that if there is a fire strike we have to impose a safety ban.”
SHOW OF SUPPORT BY UNION
UNION members at DPS Bovington came out in a show of support for others across Dorset.
Although they were not balloted to strike, they decided to come out at lunchtime ‘in solidarity’ with others in the county.
Unite convenor Rob Thompson said: “It’s a show of solidarity. We back them.
“We wish them luck.
“The likelihood is we could be in the same position as they are in the coming few months.
“The general feeling was that we should do something to support other union members in any way we can, but without putting our members at risk.”