Striking public sector workers rally in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square

Chancellor Philip Hammond. Picture: Getty

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Public sector workers across the Portsmouth area joined a national strike today.

Firefighters, teachers, rubbish collectors and council staff were among the thousands of workers on strike.

Striking public sector workers in Portsmouth Guildhall Square today

Striking public sector workers in Portsmouth Guildhall Square today

Hundreds of workers were at a trade unions’ rally which started at midday in Portsmouth Guildhall Square, and workers also planned to march through Commercial Road.

Adult social care worker Bryan Stephenson, of Copnor, was one Portsmouth City Council employee on strike.

He said: ‘It’s about pay and conditions and looking after our future.

‘We’ve got to the point where we have to stand up to there people and ask for fair pay for the amount of work we do for the public.’

Gosport’s town hall is shut today because of the strike, and dozens of schools are also either partly or fully closed.

Residents were urged to take extra care as firefighters took part in the stoppage.

Some Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service staff were due to take industrial action along with other public sector workers between 10am and 7pm.

It comes ahead of eight consecutive days of strikes from July 14 by members of the Fire Brigades Union in the ongoing dispute with the government over pay and pensions. The county’s fire service is reassuring residents that emergency calls will still be responded to during the stirke periods.

However, it is calling on the public to play its part in helping to reduce calls during the industrial action.

But a spokesman said: ‘If you have an emergency, dial 999 and we will we send an emergency response, but our level of response will be limited and may take longer than usual. Our response will focus on the highest risks to life.’

The eight days of strikes will be held from 6am to 8am and 5pm to 7pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, July 17 and July 21.

Firefighters will also strike from 6am to 8am and 11pm to 1am on Friday, July 18, from 11am to 1pm and 11pm to 1am on Saturday, July 19 and from 5pm to 7pm on Sunday, July 20.

Some schools have closed and many more have partially closed, and other services were affected as workers strike over pay and conditions.

Members of Unison, Unite, GMB, NUT, PCS and RMT are out today.

Mike Wilson, Unison’s regional organiser for the south east, explains why: ‘The action Unison is taking is because of the national pay award that covers local authorities that includes local government workers, schools, the fires service.

‘The main reason is the award the government offered is one per cent. Just this week a senior government minister made a statement to say public sector workers could expect no real term pay increase until 2018. That’s eight years of increasing poverty This is a government that says “our policies have worked, we’re out of recession”

‘Surely we all ought to be sharing in the new-found wealth?’

CLOSED SCHOOLS

Charles Dickens Primary School,

Landport

CraneswaterJunior School,Southsea

Fareham Academy

FernhurstJunior School,Southsea

Isambard Brunel Junior School,North

End

King Richard School,Paulsgrove

St John’s C of E Primary School,

Gosport

St Jude’sC of E Primary School,Old

Portsmouth

St Peter’s Catholic Primary School,

Waterlooville

Woodcroft Primary School,Lovedean

PARTIALLY CLOSED

Copnor Infant School

Corpus Christi Catholic Primary

School,North End

City of Portsmouth Boys School

Devonshire Infant School,Southsea

Goldsmith Infant School,Southsea

Hart Plain Junior School,Cowplain

Langstone Junior School,Milton

Milton Park Primary School,Milton

Miltoncross School

Moorings Way Infant School,Milton

Newbridge Junior School,North End

Northern Parade Junior School,Hilsea

Penhale Infant School,Fratton

Priory School,Southsea

Redwood Park School,Cosham

Solent Junior School,Farlington

Springfield School,Farlington

St Edmund’s Catholic School,Landport

St John’s Catholic Primary School,

Landport

St Paul’s Catholic Primary School,

Paulsgrove

St Swithun’s Catholic Primary School,

Southsea

Stamshaw Infant School

Westover Primary School,Copnor

Nationally, the Government was 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 were 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 staged 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.”