HARTLEPOOL Mayor Stuart Drummond says he “wholeheartedly supports” today’s strike which has brought public services in the town to a halt.
Thousands of public sector workers across Hartlepool and east Durham from councils, schools, job centres and hospitals were expected to take industrial action in protest at Government changes to their pensions.
Writing in his Hartlepool Mail column today, Mayor Drummond, who does not receive a pension, said the public sector had been “hung out to dry” by the Government.
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He said: “What the Government is trying to do is make people pay more into their pensions, work longer and end up with less when they retire.
“It will mean millions of people will be worse off financially in the latter years of their lives and everything they have worked for, paid for and been promised will be taken away from them.
“I don’t get a pension, so I write this with absolutely no vested interest in the matter, but I wholeheartedly support the industrial action and I think people are totally right in their stance.”
The strike, the country’s biggest since the Winter of Discontent in 1978, is expected to hit schools, council buildings, bin collections and libraries.
All Hartlepool’s schools are closed, along with 36 in east Durham.
Hartlepool Civic Centre in Victoria Road will be closed to the public, but some staff will be available to deal with urgent queries.
All council-run museums, art galleries, sports and leisure centres, libraries and day centres will be shut.
JobCentre Plus staff in Hartlepool picketed outside the Wesley Square office, in Hartlepool, this morning, while pickets gathered outside Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Ronnie Chambers, a Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union official representing 120 members who work in Hartlepool, said: “PCS members along with those of nearly 30 other unions have said enough is enough and voted to strike against the theft of their pension rights they had already earned.
“Our members now face the prospect of paying more for less, as well as having to work longer into the bargain.”
He added they would lose up to 20 per cent during their retirement because the Government insists on changing the measure used to upgrade pensions annually from the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The Government says workers on less than £15,000 a year will not have to pay increased pension contributions.
Mr Chambers that only applied to four per cent of PCS members.
He added: “Union members in Hartlepool taking industrial action today should be proud of themselves for standing up to the Government and fighting for what is rightfully theirs.”
In east Durham, there will be no rubbish, recycling or bulky waste collections.
No replacement collections will be arranged following the strike, but all household waste recycling centres will be open as usual.
All Durham County Council adult learning courses are cancelled.
East Durham Homes customer outlets in Peterlee town centre will be closed, but it will run an emergency repairs service throughout the day.
Call the freephone number 0800 032 0835 or (0191) 5185497.
Today’s strike action comes after Chancellor George Osborne announced public sector pay rises will be capped at one per cent for two years coming after a two-year pay freeze.
The chancellor also said in his autumn Statement that plans to raise the state pension age to 67 would be brought forward to 2026.