THOUSANDS of Sheffield children stayed at home as two leading teaching unions went on strike over proposed pension cuts – and warned of more widespread action in the autumn.
Around 1,500 teachers and civil servants marched through Sheffield to a rally in Barkers Pool.
Sheffield NUT joint branch secretary Toby Mallinson said he hoped the walkout would now persuade the Government to negotiate seriously on the issues.
“This disruption has been caused with just two of the leading unions taking action – I would expect to see other unions joining us in the autumn,” he said.
The other leading union, the NAS- UWT, has decided not to hold a ballot on industrial action while the current round of talks is continuing.
But that stance is expected to change if no agreement is reached, while the normally moderate National Union of Head Teachers is also balloting its members, many of whom are heads and senior staff in primary schools.
“If we do take action in the autumn it will be co-ordinated with the other unions and that will result in very major strike action – something we would very much regret,” Mr Mallinson said.
NAHT spokesman Russell Hobby said his members would be voting on industrial action before the end of term because they were deeply alarmed by what the Government’s proposals for pensions would mean to the future of education.
“Many of them have sacrificed lucrative private sector salaries to dedicate themselves to teaching and learning. The pensions dispute will affect young teachers’ decisions to stay in the profession and impact on future recruitment,” he added.
Matt Percival, headteacher at the City School at Stradbroke, said three other teaching unions were waiting to see what the national negotiations achieve. “Many senior staff in the secondary sector are in the Association of School and College Leaders and if the talks do not bear fruit their members may well be prepared to make an impact down the line.”
Unite regional officer Chris Weldon said many union members refused to cross picket lines, including teaching assistants and workers at the Sheffield Department for Work and Pensions, Home Office and Department for Business Innovation and Skills.
“I’m pleased so many have come out and not crossed the picket lines,” he said.
DWP pensions officers Ian Furness, a member of the PCS union, said: “We are striking today because we have had two years pay freeze, an attack on our pensions and a huge reduction in jobs.
“There has been great support for our cause. We are very, very happy with the way it went.”
Most Jobcentres in South Yorkshire stayed open despite a high number of PCS members on strike.
The Federation of Small Businesses in Sheffield labelled the strike an ‘obscene’ action that would hit the city’s economic recovery.
Neville Martin, FSB’s South Yorkshire regional development manager, said hundreds of parents had taken the day off work to look after their children.
He said: “It is having a dire effect on the local economy and preventing small businesses creating the jobs that are vital for economic recovery.
“It is an obscene situation. People working in small businesses would love to have the kind of gold-plated pensions that council workers and other public sector workers get.
“It’s a very sad situation and it will have a very real effect on the economic recovery.”