One million expected to strike

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The Government will today be hit by the biggest strike over pay since it came to power when over a million public sector workers will walk out in bitter disputes over pay, pensions, jobs and spending cuts.

Home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners will be joined by teachers, firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.

Picket lines will be mounted outside courts, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.

The TUC said public sector workers are on average more than £2,000 worse off under the Government, while half a million council employees earn less than the living wage.

Unison said ending the cap on public sector pay would create thousands of jobs and pump millions of pounds into the economy.

Every 1% increase in public sector pay would generate between £710 million and £820 million for the Government in increased income tax and National Insurance contributions as well as reduced spending on benefits and welfare, said the union.

Unison will stage an early morning demonstration outside Parliament, one of hundreds of events across the country to mark the 24-hour walkout.

The strike has sparked another pledge by the Prime Minister to change employment laws so that a certain number of people have to take part in a ballot otherwise industrial action would be illegal.

Business leaders and leading Conservatives have been pressing for a new law, setting out a 50% threshold in ballots.

David Cameron insisted in the Commons that the “time had come” to legislate for setting thresholds and pledged to include this in the Conservative manifesto ahead of next year’s general election.

During his weekly questions in the Commons, he said: “I don’t think these strikes are right… I think people should turn up for work.

“I think the time has come for looking at setting thresholds in strike ballots… The (NUT) strike ballot took place in 2012, based on a 27% turnout.

“How can it possibly be right for our children’s education to be disrupted by trade unions acting in that way? It is time to legislate and it will be in the Conservative manifesto.”

Unions will complain of “double standards”, arguing that no MPs would have been elected if similar restrictions were placed in general elections.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ” This is a valid and lawful ballot and complies with the current legislative framework. The NUT ballot was for discontinuous action which does not provide for an end date to action. The action would end when the disputes are resolved.

“The reason why this dispute is so long running is due to the absolute failure of this Government to engage in any meaningful discussions on the main issues of our dispute.

“Teachers deeply regret having to take strike action. We are aware that this causes problems and disruption for parents and carers. However, despite months in talks with Government officials, the real issues of our dispute over pay, pensions and conditions of service have not been addressed.”

Asked whether the Government would encourage employers to be flexible with parents whose children are off school because of the strike, David Cameron’s official spokesman said: “It is for individual employers and their employees to consider what arrangements may be most appropriate for them.”

The spokesman declined to discuss whether Mr Cameron’s own children were being affected by the teachers’ strike.

 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, who will join picket lines in London, said: “Across the public sector workers are on strike today to say enough is enough. Year after year pay has failed to keep up with the cost of living. Public sector workers are on average more than £2,000 worse off under this Government.

“Nearly half a million local government workers earn less than the living wage. But even as the economy starts to grow, ministers have told them that the pay cap will last until at least 2018.

“This is why today’s strikers deserve public support. They are saying that ordinary workers should not be locked out of the recovery, and that we should all get a fair share as the economy grows again.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The Government should look hard at the economic benefits of lifting the pay cap and ending the misery of low pay for public service workers and their families.

“The continuing pay freeze is damaging staff morale and service quality across the public sector, and today our members in local government and schools are saying enough is enough. By starving local councils of the finance they need to deliver vital public services and pay staff a fair wage, the Government is missing an opportunity to not only inject money into the economy but to create much needed full-time jobs.”

Fire chiefs urged people to take extra care because of today’s walkout by members of the Fire Brigades Union in Wales and England between 10am and 7pm – the 15th round of industrial action in a long-running row over pensions and retirement age.

Hundreds of administrative workers at Transport for London will also be on strike in a row over pay and pensions.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “In past years, unions made inflated claims about how many they thought would participate in strike action. They were shown to be wrong.

“We have rigorous contingency plans in place but we expect the majority of hard-working public servants to turn up for work across the country.”

A Labour party spokesman said: ” No-one wants to see a strike, not least because of the impact on children and parents.

“Instead of ramping up the rhetoric the Government should get round the table, because both sides have a responsibility to stop it happening.”

Council and health workers, teachers, civil servants and firefighters are among those involved in the protest.

It is set to be the biggest walkout of employees since the coalition came to power in May 2010. It could also be one of the largest one-off strikes seen in the UK since the general strike of 1926.

The so-called ‘day of action’ has been prompted by a series of disputes between public sector unions and the government over pay and pensions.

The strike does not affect Scotland, where the devolved government has agreed to pay the “living wage” to all council staff, which is currently £7.65 an hour and £8.80 in London.

Here’s a guide to all the different groups taking part in the strike:

Teachers

Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) are taking strike action on 10 July over the government’s changes to performance-related pay and pensions.

Christine Blower, the union’s general secretary, said it was a “last resort”.

“For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week, is unsustainable,” she said.

The NUT said the date of the strike has been chosen to “cause minimum disruption to examinations” and added “we deeply regret the disruption it causes parents and pupils”.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: “Further strike action will only disrupt parents’ lives, hold back children’s education and damage the reputation of the profession.

“We know that the vast majority of our teachers and school leaders are hardworking and dedicated professionals. That is why we are giving teachers more freedoms than ever and cutting unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy. In fact, teaching has never been more attractive, more popular or more rewarding.”

Council and local government workers

The UK’s three biggest public sector unions are all taking part in the strike.

The GMB union says it is demonstrating over a pay offer that it says is worth only 1%.

GMB national officer Brian Strutton said its members – in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – had “spoken loud and clear”.

“GMB members serving school meals, cleaning streets, emptying bins, looking after the elderly, helping children in classrooms and in all the other vital roles serving our communities are fed-up with being ignored and undervalued.”

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “Local government staff have worked wonders while councils have been tackling the biggest funding cuts in living memory and we have no doubt that many will still be at work on the day of strike action. The pay offer we have made would increase the pay of most employees by 1%, while the lowest paid would receive an increase of more than 4%. This is the fairest possible deal for our employees given the limits of what we can afford.

Unison is another public services union involved in the strike.

Its members have been subject to a three-year pay freeze and have now been offered a 1% pay rise.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “These workers care for our elderly, clean our streets, feed and educate our school children and keep our libraries running, but they receive no recognition in their pay packets. They are mainly low-paid women workers, stressed and demoralised, and they deserve better from their employers and from this government. This is the group that has borne the brunt of the government’s austerity agenda.”

The Unite union is also taking part in the strike.

Fiona Farmer, Unite’s national officer for local government, said: “Our members have endured four years of pay cuts in real terms and they have now voted overwhelmingly to strike on 10 July to drive home the message to ministers that ‘poverty pay’ in local government must end.”

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4m members.

Civil servants

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union have voted by 3-1 in favour of joining the day of action.

The decision to take part in the strike comes in the wake of the crisis in the Passport Office, which the union said showed what happens when jobs are cut and offices are closed in the name of austerity.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Ministers praise public servants for their hard work and dedication but at the same time they are slashing their living standards. Instead of warm words, public sector workers need a pay rise.

“As politicians of all parties justify pay cuts by repeating the lie that there’s no money around, and household incomes fall to their lowest for more than a decade, it is clear the so called economic recovery is not being felt by everyone.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that, once again, PCS insist on strike action that benefits no one… Pay restraint protects public sector jobs, supports high-quality public services and helps put the UK’s finances back on track.”

Members of the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) are also taking part in the strike. NIPSA represents workers across the civil and public services and the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland.

Alison Millar, Deputy General Secretary, said: “NIPSA members employed in education, local government, housing executives, libraries, the Youth Justice Agency and other areas will be on strike on 10 July in a firm rejection of the employers’ 1% offer. Members have had enough and have voted by over 63% for strike action.”

Firefighters

The Fire Brigades union (FBU) has said its members in England and Wales will take strike action between 10am and 7pm.

It will be the 15th strike by the union in an ongoing dispute with the government over plans to change pensions and the retirement age of firefighters.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The FBU has wanted to settle our dispute for a long time, but the government at Westminster is simply not listening. We are therefore proud to take strike action alongside our colleagues in other unions on 10 July.

“The fact that this government has united so many workers to take strike action against them is a testament to the failure of their policies. They are destroying our public services and wrecking the lives of millions.

The government’s fire minister Brandon Lewis said: “The deal on the table is fair and gives firefighters one of the most generous pensions in the public sector. Additionally the proposals protect the earned rights of a higher proportion of members than any other public sector scheme. Nearly three quarters will see no change in their pension age in 2015.

“Public safety will remain the primary focus. All fire and rescue authorities have robust and well tested plans in place that include back up support if needed.”

London transport staff

Staff at Transport for London (TfL) are staging a 24-hour strike over pay and pensions on 10 July, to coincide with the nationwide walkout by public sector workers.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will take industrial action as part of a long-running dispute.

Acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “The current pension proposals are nothing less than a concerted attack on terms and conditions and would have a major effect on the future of the entire TfL Pension Fund.”

TfL’s human resources director Tricia Riley said: “Should the strike go ahead, there would be no impact on transport services. As with arrangements at any modern organisation, our proposed changes will ensure that our non-operational staff, who provide valuable management and support functions, are fairly paid based on their performance and relative to the external jobs market.”

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