Strike action sees 400 take part in Town Hall Demo

Public sector unions strike rally outside Halifax Town Hall
Public sector unions strike rally outside Halifax Town Hall

THE national strike over public-sector pensions brought a wave of disruption to Calderdale.

Nearly every school closed, giving thousands of children an extra day off, libraries and many council offices were shut and others were picketed.

About 400 banner-waving protesters gathered outside Halifax Town Hall to hear a range of trade-union representatives condemn the Government’s planned pension reforms.

They said the changes would leave members paying more and working longer for less.

The Government claims the cost of funding public-sector pensions is unsustainable as people are living longer.

Keith Williamson, representing one of the biggest unions, Unison, said that despite the widespread support yesterday, he did not think a single day of action would be enough.

“I believe it is going to require sustained action to persuade the Government move on this,” he said.

He told how a typical public sector worker with 20 years service and earning £20,000 would see their pension reduced from £9,842 per year to £8,631 and many would not be able to retire until they were 67. “Increasing our pension contributions is a tax on low paid workers and it is going to pay off the greedy bankers who put us in this mess in the first place.”

Paul Wiehl, said all seven members of the Association of Education Psychologists in Calderdale were on strike because of what they saw as a direct attack on public services. “Most people join the public service sector with a view to giving fair labour and they expect a fair pension in return.”

Shelagh Hirst of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said: “Education professionals are committed to their jobs and the people they work with, they don’t want to strike but want to persuade the Government to give a bit and properly negotiate the pensions agreement.”

Jan Holden of the University and College Union said cutting her pension now would make her and others like her a burden on the state in future.

“I have worked hard and paid into a pension scheme which the Government said it would honour, and now they want to change that.

“It is no wonder that so many younger people are disenchanted and no longer see public sector pensions as worthwhile.”

Gary Barker of the GMB union said the Government was intent on pitting the public sector against the private sector. “We have to stand together for what’s right.”

Paul Wells of the Public and Commercial Services union said people would have to pay £63 a month more into their pension if the reforms went ahead as planned.

“Our pensions are affordable if the Government wants to take on the bankers and those who don’t pay the taxes they are supposed to pay.”

Calderdale Council’s deputy leader Tim Swift (Lab, Town) joined the rally along with several other Labour councillors.

He said he had a lot of sympathy for the strikers. “I think they have been pushed to the point where they have no other way to make their voices heard.

He hoped there would be no more industrial action but the council had plans in place if that was necessary.

Councillor Danielle Coombs (Lab, Ovenden) will table a motion at next Wednesday’s meeting of Calderdale Council urging a Government rethink.

She also wants councillors to “strongly commend the very positive and constructive approach being taken by council staff, managers and trades unions who have taken great care to ensure that essential services and care for the vulnerable are not affected by the dispute.”

Members of more than 30 trades unions took part in yesterday’s day of action.

Most Calderdale schools and at least 14 council offices and libraries were closed, Calderdale Magistrates Court and Halifax County Court was operating with a skeleton staff and pickets were on duty outside several schools, the Calderdale Royal Hospital and Heath Training Centre, in Free School Lane, Halifax.

Five Calderdale primary schools remained open as normal - Bowling Green, at Stainland, Salterlee, Shibden, Scout Road, Mytholmroyd, St John’s, at Clifton. Whitehill, Halifax.

Another seven schools were partly closed.

The Government wants public sector workers to work for longer, pay more into their pensions and for those pensions to be based on a “career average” salary, rather that the current final salary arrangement which many are currently on.