Strike grinds city to a halt

strike 'Mark Keeling
strike 'Mark Keeling

THOUSANDS of public sector workers who walked out on strike this morning have defended their actions saying it was the ‘right time to take action.’

As public services across the city ground to a halt, The Star spoke to public sector workers who defended their decision to strike.

Ben Miskell, a staff member at Sheffield’s Bradfield School said teachers were ‘at the end of their tether’ with more taking strike action today than at any other time within living memory.

The 28-year-old citizenship teacher said he was happy an ‘overwhelming majority’ of teachers had felt it was the right time to take action, adding: “I face working in this job for the next 40 years till I am 68, and I probably wouldn’t last long after that.

“I will have to pay huge increases in pension contributions for considerably less, and this after a deal was done in the year I joined the profession to make our pensions self-funding.

“The feeling in the staff room is one of anger, people are dismayed with the Government and their relentless attacks on working conditions and on education.

“Very few people needed persuading they should come out today, not just teachers but support workers and teaching assistants too,” Mr Miskell added.

Angela ‘Sadie’ Duncum, a mother-of-two, aged 50, from Darnall, who works as a driver for children with special educational needs said: “As far as I’m concerned, the strike is worth it even if I stood to lose £100 a day in pay - I’m fighting not only for my future but the pensions for people of my children’s generation.

“If it wasn’t for those greedy bankers, the country would not be having so many problems financially. The cuts to pensions are going to affect me because I have more than 10 years to go before retirement and I am going to end up paying more money to receive 16 to 20 per cent less in my pension.

“The Government is living in la la land to think that’s fair. MPs are not taking cuts in their pensions so why should people like me - I only earn £10,000 a year because I work part time. I would say to private workers who don’t think we should strike, ‘why have you rolled over and accepted cuts to your pensions?’. They should fight as well.”

Trade union organiser Mark Keeling, who is the organiser for Unite at Sheffield Council said: “The Government is trying to build a wedge between public and private sector workers - but private companies did not have to cut pensions like they have done. Look at the profits made by the privatised utilities for example. They are making enough to be able to pay decent pensions but have axed final salary schemes.

“In the private sector, it’s not about whether companies can afford pension schemes, it’s about greed.

“The private workers weren’t able to fight but we are going to fight. If the Government ups the ante by making strikes more difficult in retaliation, so shall we. If the public workers lose out, we all lose out, because they have less money to spend in the local economy.

“It’s not the union leaders up for a fight - it’s most of the members.”

Meanwhile, Mark Wilson, a father-of-two from High Green, is a community mental health nurse at the Sheffield Crisis Resolution Team.

He said: “The main reason I’m on strike is for my kids’ future. I have two childern under the age of five and am banking on my meagre pension and lump sum to pay for their education.

“I’ve worked as nurse now for 24 years, I have accepted lower pay, nights and shift work in return for the payout on my retirement - it’s one of the things that keeps me and my colleagues going.

“People often say to me ‘I couldn’t do your job’.

“Well, I’m happy to do it but want to make sure I can retire in decent health with a decent standard of living.

“This government has made its position clear - it is happy to bailout bankers with the public purse, it won’t close loopholes in corporate tax law, and sits back whilst CEOs of major companies award themselves 50 per cent pay rises.

“All we have had is a pay freeze, which with prices rising so quickly is effectively a pay cut.

“The increase in may pension contributions, half a day’s pay a month, isn’t even going into my pension pot - it is going to sort out the mess that George Osborne’s mates in the City have caused.

“That’s why people are angry and prepared to take action. I’m glad my union have finally said enough is enough.”

Sheffield physiotherapist Luke Symonds, steward for Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: “Physiotherapy staff are in the frontline of caring for patients and are dedicated professionals, so this was an extremely difficult decision for them to take.

“The message from our members however was loud and clear, we need to take this action to protect our pensions.

“Our aim has always been and remains a negotiated settlement.

“The Government has finally shown a willingness to negotiate, but their announcement is well short of an acceptable offer.

“The protection arrangements will not benefit the majority of our members who are under 40, staff who work hard to deliver high quality care for patients.

“We will continue to play a full role in negotiations but the Government will need to address members’ real concerns over the proposals as they currently stand.

“The Government’s proposals for higher contributions of up to 50 per cent are unreasonable while the NHS pay freeze is ongoing and high inflation squeezes household budgets.

“It should also be remembered that the NHS pension schemes was reformed just three years ago and is both affordable now and sustainable in the future.

“Indeed, the NHS pension scheme contributed a £2 billion surplus for the Treasury last year.”