A DAY of discontent is looming as thousands of public sector workers vote to take unprecedented strike action over changes to their pensions.
Schools, hospitals, and council services face severe disruption as employees who oppose government pension proposals walk out in protest.
Families will be forced to make alternative arrangements for their children as it is predicted almost every school in the area covered by The News will close when heads, teachers and support staff strike on November 30.
Hospitals and emergency services are already making contingency plans in anticipation of doctors, nurses, paramedics and cleaners joining the strikers.
And households will be affected as rubbish collection services face cancellation. Gosport Borough Council has already announced it will probably effectively shut down on the day as 75 per cent of its employees are union members.
The impact on schools of this month’s action promises to eclipse that caused by the strike on June 30 this year involving the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the University and College Union. Then, two thirds of schools were either closed or disrupted.
This time those staff will be joined by members of the National Association of Headteachers and public sector union Unison which counts dinner ladies, caretakers and support staff among its members.
Public sector workers – including members of the huge GMB union, which last night joined the list of unions voting to take action – say the government’s plans will mean they will have to pay more, work for longer and get less when they retire. Tomorrow the region’s second largest teaching union NASUWT will almost certainly come out in favour of industrial action, its Portsmouth branch secretary Sion Reynolds told The News.
Howard Payne, head of Medina Primary in Cosham, said the absence of headteachers who need to be on call in case of emergencies would force record numbers of schools to shut. He said: ‘If the strike goes ahead I think it will be very close to all schools closing.
‘It will send a strong message to the government. The government has given us a crumb by saying teachers aged 50 years and above will not be affected by the changes. That doesn’t change the fact that their proposals will deter the best graduates from entering the profession.’
Steve Labedz is head of Admiral Lord Nelson School in Copnor, which closed in June when 40 per cent of staff walked out. He said up to 80 per cent of staff could go on strike this time. ‘If NASUWT and NUT members go on strike I think it’s going to be very difficult for schools to open at all,’ he added.
Cllr Roy Perry, Hampshire’s deputy leader and executive member for children’s services, said: ‘I would be very disappointed to see strike action by the public sector workers and in particular teachers. The people who will suffer are pupils and parents.’ Havant and Fareham borough councils are braced for disruptions to rubbish collections.
David Williams, Portsmouth City Council’s chief executive, said: ‘Council services have contingency plans and every effort will be made to maintain front line services.’
FOR AND AGAINST STIKE ACTION
FOR: The unions say their pensions are under attack – that they are being asked to pay more, work longer, and get less.
They argue that the measures proposed by the government – such as increasing pensions by less each year, raising the retirement age, and increasing the amount workers must put in by three per cent – are unfair and unnecessary.
Campaigners claim the overall cost of pensions is set to fall, not rise, in coming years – and they are paying the price for a recession they didn’t cause.
AGAINST: The government argues that public sector pensions are higher than most in the private sector and have become unsustainable.
Ministers insist that they have already made concessions to the demands of unions and the current deal is the best one the country can afford.
They also say that low turnouts in strike ballots mean that the majority of union members did not vote for industrial action, adding that the strike on November 30 is motivated more by union bosses trying to take on the government than real worker discontent.
Unions which have voted to strike:
· ATL – An education workers union which voted earlier this year to take ongoing action. 73 per cent voted in favour; 26 per cent turnout.
· FDA – Union for senior managers and professionals. 85 per cent voted in favour; 54 per cent turnout.
· CSP – The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. 86 per cent voted in favour; 66 per cent turnout.
· GMB – Large general union. 73 per cent voted in favour; 33 per cent turnout
· NAHT – The National Association of Head Teachers. 76 per cent voted in favour; 54 per cent turnout.
· NUT – The UK’s largest teachers’ union which voted earlier this year to take ongoing action. 92 per cent voted in favour; 40 per cent turnout.
· PCS – The Public and Commercial Services Union which voted earlier this year to take ongoing action. 76 per cent voted in favour; 45 per cent turnout.
· Prospect – Union for professionals such as engineers, scientists and managers. 75 per cent voted in favour; 52 per cent turnout.
· SOR – The Society and College of Radiographers. 84 per cent voted in favour, with a 58 per cent turnout.
· UCU - The University and College Union which voted earlier this year to take ongoing action. 82 per cent voted in favour; 65 per cent turnout.
· Ucatt – Union for building workers. 80 per cent voted in favour; 27 per cent turnout.
· Unison – The UK’s largest public service union with more than 1.3m members. 78 per cent voted in favour; 29 per cent turnout.
Unions with vote results still to come:
· NAPO – Trade union for family court and probation staff.
· NASUWT – Major teachers union. Ballot result expected today or tomorrow.
· POA – A union representing prison, correctional and secure psychiatric workers.
· RCN – The Royal College of Nursing.
· SCP – The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists.
· Unite – The UK and Ireland’s largest general union with more than 1.5m members. Ballot result expected soon.