Public services hit as mass walk-out looms

PEOPLE are being warned to prepare for “widespread disruption” as thousands of public sector workers in Hartlepool and east Durham get set to walk out on strike next week.

Teachers, social workers, health workers, bin men, college staff, job centre and benefits workers are set to stage a day of industrial action on Wednesday, November 30, in a row with the Government over pensions.

Unless there is an 11th-hour agreement between Government and unions, many parents will have to make alternative childcare arrangements as every secondary school in Hartlepool will be closed or is likely to be shut to students and eight primary schools in Hartlepool will be closed.

In east Durham, around 30 schools will be shut as well as East Durham College, in Peterlee.

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A Hartlepool union leader said it will be the biggest strike the town has seen in years after the country’s biggest public sector worker unions voted in favour of industrial action.

Council-run day services for adults with disabilities are more than likely to be cancelled for the day.

Among the unions taking part in the action are Unison, Unite, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the GMB and the Rail and Maritime Union (RMT).

Edwin Jeffries, of the Hartlepool branch of Unison, which has 1,750 Unison members working for Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “It could have a widespread impact across a multitude of services including refuse services, school meals and school closures themselves.

“It is a direct attack on the public sector pension schemes.

“In some sense it will be bigger than most of the disputes we have had for some considerable time.

“Strike action is always a last resort, but the strength of feeling was shown in the ballot when 74 per cent of members were in favour of taking industrial action.”

Hartlepool Borough Council chiefs they are assessing the likely impact the strike will have on services.

A council spokesman said: “If the industrial action is well supported by employees, we anticipate that there would be widespread disruption of council services on November 30, although at this stage we cannot confirm exactly what that would mean.

“Emergency arrangements have been put in place so that staff are available if needed, but people should expect normal council services and buildings to be affected.

“Assessments are being made as to the potential impact of the strike action on services and further details will be publicised over the course of the next week.

“In terms of schools, they will inform parents as soon as they are able to confirm how the strike action will affect them.”

Campaigners say the strike is in response to changes to public sector worker’s pensions, which would see them pay an extra 3.2 per cent in contributions.

Unison say the average pension in local government is £4,000 for men and £2,800 a year women.

Julie Young, northern regional organiser for the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “People are having to pay more, work longer and will end up getting less at the end of the day.

“It is not just for people in work now nut for future generations.”

NHS Hartlepool, which commissions local GP services, said it plans all year round for emergencies including strikes.

A spokesman said: “In the event of any industrial action, the NHS has contingency plans in place to ensure quality of patient care is not compromised.

“Healthcare professionals have always sought to protect their patients and we believe that staff will continue to ensure that patient care is not affected by any industrial action that may take place.

“Employers will make local decisions to redeploy suitably qualified staff where needed.”