UNIONS claim 19,000 public sector workers will be going on strike in Dorset today.

The protest against pension changes is the biggest day of action for years and is set to cause chaos.

Many public authorities will be running with a skeleton staff and more than 100 schools across Dorset will be closed.

Emergency services say they will be able to cope as some paramedics and non-uniform staff from the police and fire services join the walkout - but people are urged to think before dialling 999.

Picket lines will be set up at government offices and more than 1,500 people are expected to join a march and rally in Dorchester.

More than a dozen unions will be represented.

Regional secretary of the South West TUC Nigel Costley said: "This is the largest protest by trade unions for a generation and is a clear demonstration of how strongly workers feel about the unfair and unnecessary changes to their pension schemes that the government are attempting to impose."

Emergency Services

Bosses at Dorset's 999 services will be operating with reduced staff numbers.

A Dorset Police spokesman said: "Contingencies are in place to ensure essential policing services are maintained."

Striking police members of Unison are employed in areas such as the control room, crime scene investigation and administration, and also include police community support officers.

Branch secretary of Dorset Police Unison Debi Potter said: "Why should our members pay increased contributions when they are not going to make the pension schemes more viable but instead go towards paying off the debt?"

Ambulance staff and non-uniform workers at South Western Ambulance will be striking and managers urge people to think before dialling 999.

Medical Director Dr Andy Smith said: "I would like to offer an assurance to the communities we serve that serious emergencies will get an immediate response.

"We would urge people to 'Choose Well'. Is their call most appropriate to direct to the ambulance service, or is it best suited to an alternative care provider like a GP, walk in-centre or NHS Direct?"

Firefighters are not on strike - action in the future has not been ruled out - but non-uniform union staff at Dorset Fire and Rescue Service are taking action.

The brigade's Director of People Services Jenny Long said: "We have assessed the impacts on departments and do not think that they will be significantly affected."

Echo poll shows 51per cent of voters support the strike

Fifty one per cent of people who voted in the Dorset Echo's online poll support the strikes. There were 727 votes cast in total.

Attractions free for children today

Weymouth Sea Life Park is waiving the admission fee for children today because of the strike. Families will also get in free at a Tudor-themed event at Athelhampton House, Puddletown.

Nurses and Dorset County Hospital

NURSES will not be striking but the threat of action remains.

The Royal College of Nursing said that if negotiations with the Government fail by the end of December, it will authorise a ballot of members on industrial action - for the first time ever.

RCN South West Regional Director Jeannett Martin said: "We are supporting other trade union colleagues by encouraging RCN members to attend local demonstrations outside of their working hours."

Dorset County Hospital has contingency plans in place to ensure that disruptions to services are minimal. Some routine operations and outpatient appointments have been cancelled and rescheduled.

The GP patient 'open access walk-in x-ray service' at DCH will not be running and GPs have been made aware. All community hospital x-ray appointments are running as usual.

NHS Dorset said the vast majority of healthcare services will continue as normal.

How have you been affected by the strikes?

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Are you on strike today or attending the march in Dorchester?

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For full coverage of today's strikes see Thursday's Dorset Echo