Thousands in protest over pension changes

strikeram'   UNISON members marking the strike ballot  with a demonstration outside Sheffield Town Hall ' See Story Martin Slack Picture by Chris Lawton'Nov 03  2011

strikeram' UNISON members marking the strike ballot with a demonstration outside Sheffield Town Hall ' See Story Martin Slack Picture by Chris Lawton'Nov 03 2011

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PICKETS will gather from as early as 6am tomorrow as tens of thousands of public workers in Sheffield join colleagues from across the country in a walk out in protest at pensions changes.

Workers from hospital nurses and domestic staff to council employers, civil servants and teachers are all participating in the day of action, which will see more than two million people on strike across the country.

Martin Mayer, president of Sheffield Trades Council, said: “I think this is going to be one of the biggest strikes since at least the 1980s, possibly as far back as the general strike of 1926.

“We are now reaching out beyond public sector workers - we have a presence at tomorrow’s demonstration in Sheffield from trade unions in the private sector, students, tenants’ groups and members of Sheffield Pensioners’ Action Group.”

Some of the earliest events in Sheffield tomorrow will involve picket lines being established at the Northern General Hospital from 6am, followed by a rally there at 9.15am.

Similar action is to take place at the Royal Hallamshire.

There will be numerous rallies involving individual trade union branches at council and civil service offices in Sheffield, with striking workers then assembling at Barkers Pool at 12 noon for a regional rally.

Coaches will bring demonstrators from Barnsley and Rotherham to join the event.

After speeches, tens of thousands of people expected at the rally will march a circular route around the city centre, along Division Street, Carver Street, Charter Way, The Moor, Eyre St, Union Street and Peace Gardens before returning to City Hall.

Mr Mayer said he accepted trade unionists still had ‘an argument to win’ with the wider public, as opinion polls published in the last few days showed that while members of the public thought the Government was not handling the issue well, the majority did not support the strike.

Public pensions will still be better than most private sector workers’ pensions even with the Government’s planned changes. The Government says it cannot afford the current scheme because more people are living longer into retirement, increasing the cost.

Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has also argued that the review proposing the changes has been carried out by a Labour peer, Lord Hutton.

But Mr Mayer said: “Part of the purpose of the rally is to put our points across and members of the public will be able to hear them. The public sector is already suffering enough with wage freezes and job cuts.

“We will tackle any arguments with the public head on. What has happened to private sector pensions is also a scandal but it does not mean there should be a race to the bottom with everyone’s pensions being made worse.”

The effect of the strike will be felt keenest by hospital patients, with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals cancelling all outpatient and non urgent appointments, and parents, who will have to pay for childcare or take the day off work.

Richard Parker, deputy chief operating officer at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have therefore no option but to concentrate our efforts on ensuring wards and departments have adequate cover to care safely for the patients already in hospital as well as being able to continue to provide emergency care including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and dialysis.

“In summary we will provide the same level of service as would be expected on Christmas day. We have notified those patients who will be affected.”