North Devon workers join mass walkout

PUBLIC sector workers in North Devon have joined thousands around the UK striking over changes to their pension.

The 24-hour Unison walk-out, thought to be the largest since the 1920s, is affecting many schools, hospitals, airports, ports and government offices.

In Barnstaple, around 20 local government workers, including planning, housing, environmental health and customer service staff, have formed a picket at the Civic Centre.

A further 20-or-so works and recycling staff are out in force at North Devon Council’s Brynsworthy Environmental Centre, while hospital workers are staging a similar protest outside North Devon District Hospital.

Graham Townsend, Unison’s North Devon local government branch chairman, said: “We’ve had a reasonably good turnout and over the next few days we will be completing an audit of how many workers have taken part in today’s action.

“There is a lot of anger about the change to pensions,” added Mr Townsend.

“Local government workers were asked to contribute to £1 billion worth of savings in 2008 and now we’re being required to find another £900 million.

“There is no more going into the pension fund. Employees are being asked to contribute more so the Government can reduce its grant to employers. The Government will pay in less, and more will be paid in by the employees. It’s another form of tax.

“On top of that we’ve had a two-year pay freeze and yesterday it was announced that there will be a one per cent cap on public sector pay for the next two years.

“The Government is really clobbering the public sector.”

Unions also object to government plans to make their members work longer to earn their pensions.

Chancellor George Osborne has urged more talks, saying strikes would not achieve anything.