‘Further strikes not ruled out’

Hartlepool libraries staff members pictured at the rear of the York Road library.
Hartlepool libraries staff members pictured at the rear of the York Road library.

UNIONS are not ruling out further action after scores of services came to a standstill as public sector workers went on strike over their pensions.

Council-run buildings, schools, colleges, and hospitals in Hartlepool and east Durham became scenes of industrial action as staff joined picket lines.

Officials from public sector union Unison said 75 per cent of local government workers stayed away from work in support of the strike.

Hartlepool Civic Centre, the authority’s Lynn Street depot and Bryan Hanson House, Hartlepool College of Further Education, both gates at the University Hospital of Hartlepool and Peterlee Revenue and Customs Office were just some of the places affected by the day of action.

Union officials say they hope the strike, which had a “significant impact on the town”, has sent a strong message to the Government that the attacks on pensions are “unacceptable” and warned further strikes could come.

Unions also refuted claims by Prime Minister David Cameron said the walkout had been a “damp squib” and was far from as universally supported as claimed.

The strike saw all of Hartlepool’s schools and 32 in east Durham were closed.

Unison regional organiser Mike Hill said around 30 workers picketed at the Lynn Street depot, with 20 staff at the Civic Centre, eight staff outside Bryan Hanson House, and 20 outside the town’s hospital.

He said some Hartlepool workers also joined a 1,000-strong Tees-wide Unison rally in Middlesbrough and Cleveland police and fire authority staff were also represented.

Mr Hill added: “Industrial action is a last resort and we regret any inconvenience caused to the public, but we have had plenty of support from service users who recognise that the issue of pensions is an important one.

“Given the strength of feeling today further action cannot be ruled out.”

A council spokesman said: “As we anticipated, many of the council’s services were unfortunately substantially disrupted and the majority of council buildings were closed to the public.”

The spokesman stressed that arrangements were made to protect the town’s most vulnerable residents, including home care service users.

A spokeswoman for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have worked very closely with our staff and there has been good discussion and co-operation all the way along.

“We had 69 planned operations across the Hartlepool and North Tees sites. We postponed 39 of those. They are being rescheduled as soon as possible.”

A College of Further Education spokeswoman said the college had not seen major disruption, with students in class and those without tutors studying in the college library or online.

Principal of Hartlepool Sixth Form College, Rick Wells, said the college was closed to most students yesterday on the grounds of health and safety.

Hugh Crawford, Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union branch chairman for Peterlee Revenue and Customs Office, said: “It has been a really good response from our members.”

Unison says the average pension for local government workers is around £4,000 a year and £7,000 a year for NHS workers, but the TaxPayers’ Alliance said a local government manager who retires on £60,000 a year could expect a pension of £30,000 a year.

A junior worker who retires on £25,000 a year could expect a pension of £12,500 and a teacher who retires on £50,000 can expect a pension of £25,000.