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Mass walk-out as more than 2,500 workers strike across Worcestershire
SCHOOLS were crippled, bus services reduced, libraries closed and thousands of bin collections shelved as around 2,500 public sector workers went on strike across Worcestershire.
Yesterday's dramatic walk-out, the biggest co-ordinated strike effort to hit the county this century, resulted in:
- 29 schools being affected with 10 shut completely and 19 partially closed
- Around 5,000 bins went unemptied by Worcester City Council as refuse workers joined the protest
- Libraries in St John's, Stourport and Tenbury had to close and at The Hive in Worcester the original archives centre was also shut as skeleton staffing hit the building
- Worcester's two park and rides at Perdiswell and Sixways were dramatically affected, with a raft of services slashed as drivers walked out
The dispute, over a one per cent pay rise, was condemned by David Cameron yesterday but people at picket lines across the county said they felt "under attack".
At County Hall, the HQ of Worcestershire County Council, Unison said around 2,000 of its members had not gone into work.
The strikes included staff at Ringway, the council's highways service for tending to road repairs.
Jim Price, secretary of Worcestershire's Unison branch, said: "We've had a lot of support even from people who have crossed the picket line.
"The park and ride has been badly hit, which is ironic and we've all seen what it's done to libraries and schools.
"We never want to inconvenience people but they must realise what's at stake here."
Some workers entering County Hall were verbally aggressive as they crossed the line to get in.
A fellow employee at the picket line, who did not want to be named, said: "I do admin work and everyone I know is totally fed up - we've had a one per cent pay rise since 2010, it's disgusting."
At The Hive the centre was operating with skeleton staff and the original archives section had to be shut as a picket line formed outside.
Archives manager Adrian Gregson, who is also a former leader of Worcester City Council, said: "It's demoralising to be fighting against the Government, we are trying to deliver a public service here for people who really need it.
"It's not just about pay, it's about how we've been asked to do more and more for less."
People inside the building, most of whom were fending for themselves yesterday, were supportive.
Ben Campbell, 20, a history degree student at the University of Worcester said: "This whole building should be shut today, they should all walk - they've been treated disgracefully."
A spokesman for Worcester City Council, where a picket line was at Orchard House, yesterday said 5,000 recycling collections had to be postponed.
The county council said schools, buses and libraries are all due to get back to normal today after yesterday's 24-hour stoppages.
A spokesman added: "In these situations we always put contingency plans in place to ensure as far as possible essential services can continue to be provided."
FIREFIGHTERS JOIN IN THE PROTEST
ANGRY firefighters in Worcester also joined the strikes - saying they felt they had "no other option".
A picket line formed across Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service's Deansway HQ at 10am and remained in place until 7pm yesterday evening.
The Fire Brigades Union's (FBU) dispute centred around not only the one per cent public sector pay offer but pension reforms.
The changes mean firefighters are paying 14.2 per cent into their pensions compared to 11.9 per cent three years ago, and will work until 60 to draw it down.
Watch commander Adrian Farmer, who was one of scores of staff at the city picket line said: "This has gone on for long enough and we feel we've no other option.
"Imagine if your house was burning down and a load of firefighters turned up in their 60s."
Firefighter Ian Fox, 47, based in Worcester, said: "A couple of years ago we paid 11.9 per cent into our pensions and now its 14 per cent.
"Now they're talking about a one per cent pay rise. All we've seen is cuts over the years, we've had enough."
Fellow firefighter Gary Southam, 48, said: "It's a hard job and none of this is helping - we don't want to strike but we feel like we've got little choice."
As well as yesterday's walk-out, the FBU is planning eight consecutive days of strike action from this Monday.
Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service yesterday said it was operating on a "reduced response" but insisted all emergency calls would be addressed with the remaining staff on duty.
Adrian Elliott, group commander of the service, said "not all of our firefighters are members" of the union but admitted some delays in responding to calls from the public had to be expected.
Fire Minister Brandon Lewis has heavily criticised the walk-outs, saying it the union keeps "disrupting a taxpayer-funded service" with "unnecessary" industrial action.
He also insists the deal offered is deal offered is "one of the most generous pensions in the whole public sector."
He said: "Under the new scheme, a firefighter who earns £29,000 will still be able to retire after a full career aged sixty, get a £19,000 a year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension.
"The equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much."
BINS WILL BE EMPTIED TODAY AND MONDAY, SAYS COUNCIL
EXTRA rubbish collection vehicles are being sent out today at taxpayers' expense to pick up the 5,000 bins left idle yesterday.
Worcester City Council revealed it was sending extra trucks onto the roads after around 50 per cent of household bins normally emptied on Thursdays were missed.
Bosses were keen to stress the bins were all green ones full of recyclables, so they had no concerns about rotting food.
But they also admitted because there are 5,000 to collect, some will not be addressed until Monday in the Claines area of the city.
Councillor Simon Geraghty, the leader, said: "It is unfortunate this strike action has been taken but the council is acting swiftly to ensure residents’ bins are emptied as quickly as possible.
"Three extra refuse vehicles will be in action on Friday and our plan is to collect everything by the close of play on Monday."
Bins in Rainbow Hill, Arboretum, Warndon, St Stephens and some parts of Claines will be emptied today.
Missed garden waste collections will take place on Monday, while businesses have been told trade waste pick-ups will be addressed today.
Meanwhile, amid yesterday's drama Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to include a policy in his 2015 election manifesto to impose minimum thresholds on ballots before strikes are allowed.
Mr Cameron said it "cannot be right for children’s education to be disrupted by trade unions" after teachers joined in based on a poll of just a quarter of teaching union members two years ago.