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Major public sector strike affecting Somerset today
Updated 4:34pm Thursday 10th July 2014 in News
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- Teachers, council staff, firefighters and civil servants taking industrial action.
- Striking workers say they've faced pay freezes or below-inflation pay rises for years
- Follow the latest developments here today and leave your comments
Bridgwater on strike earlier today.
THE scene outside Sedgemoor District Council's offices in Bridgwater earlier.
RT @localgovexec: @LGANews: 95% of council staff at work despite strikes #localgov #strikeaction http://t.co/LIzKvhu7DE— @harryhonnor 10 July 2014
SOMERSET County Council claims the majority of its services continued as usual today despite the national one-day strike by unions.
At 11am it was recorded that 364 workers were absent due to the industrial action, 7% of the overall workforce of 5,020.
Cllr Anna Groskop, the authority's cabinet member for HR and transformation, said: “I’m pleased to see that most essential council services were able to continue as normal today with the vast majority of staff coming into work.
“Some of our services were reduced but most were able to remain open.
"We apologise to anyone who was affected but hope the public can understand the reasons why.”
Bridgwater, Wiveliscombe, Taunton and Priorswood Libraries were closed for the day with Glastonbury Library closed from midday. All other libraries, except Taunton Mobile Library, were due to provide services as usual.
The Museum of Somerset was also fully open.
Day centres for people with learning disabilities were closed with many staff redeployed to help individuals with their care needs.
Of the schools which notified Somerset County Council of their position, 17 were open, 12 were fully closed and 11 were partially closed.
THE NUT is warning there could potentially be more strikes next term.
Vicki Nash, divisional secretary South and West Somerset for the union, said there was no end in sight to the dispute.
She added: "The strike is part of our continuing industrial action - we're suffering from a lack of pay rises and an increase in pension contributions combined with a decrease in benefits and the expectation that we'll continue to have the same workload.
"The Government says if we don't continue on the same terms and conditions, they're going to put unqualified staff in classrooms instead of teachers.
"No child should be at the whims and mercy of someone not qualified to the level they should be.
"The Government won't sit round the table to talk. If they don't, this could escalate into the autumn.
"It's a great shame because no teacher wants their school to be closed to inconvenience children's learning or disrupt parents and the community we work in."
The NASUWT teachers union, which called members out on previous strikes, is not supporting today's action.
Cllr Mick Lerry, Labour leader on Sedgemoor District Council and Parliamentary candidate for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said: “Unions taking strike action on Thursday, July 10, are in dispute with their employers and they are using their democratic right to take strike action. Many of these Unions are also standing up for the public service they provide.
“The Government must realise that they have a responsibility to meet with the Unions to discuss their grievances and to make sure that there are good employee relations, rather than complaining about the action Unions take."
Bridgwater Labour Councillor and Unite member Leigh Redman said: “There is deep anger at this governments’ assault on public services. This is not just about pay.
“It’s about the pressure of huge workloads, the targets culture and the stress of bullying managers.
“People have had enough. Across Britain spending cuts have decimated local services. By 2015/16 the Con/Dem government will have hacked £11.3 billion from local government funds in England alone.”
RT @SomersetUNISON: #J10 | @unisontweets members are engaging with the general public in Taunton High Street this morning - busy & sunny! h…— @Martin4labour 10 July 2014
A SPOKESMAN for the UNITE union said its members are striking for the following reasons.
*Local Government workers are the lowest paid across all public services with
many earning just above the National Minimum Wage.
*Two-thirds of members who work hard delivering local government services to their local community earn below £21,000 a year – the national average wage.
That’s around one million people.
*And of these over 400,000 people earn below £15000 a year. Local government is a low wage employer.
*Pay increases – when they have been received – have been below inflation
since November 2009.
*If the pay points had been increased in line with inflation then workers' pay would be at least £2,000 a year higher by now.
*The trade unions asked for at least £1 more an hour to start reversing the real
cuts in pay and want to ensure no-one in local government gets less than the Living Wage.
*The benefit of paying £1 more an hour would be felt wider than just local
government workers pockets. Out of every £1 in wages received by local
government workers, workers spend an average of 52p in local high streets.
*By taking industrial action workers are saying they're are fed up with receiving real pay cuts and are prepared to fight to get a better pay deal.
*400,000 job losses in local government since 2010 means staff are working more and getting less.
*Unite have stories from our members working in local government about what
they have had to cut back on in recent years; holidays, new clothes and shoes,
and even essentials like eating properly and visiting the dentist.
The information contained above is supplied by UNITE and represents the union's views.
KRIS Ross-Osborne, Assistant Branch Secretary to UNISON Somerset County Branch, said: “While we will are on strike, our members will be showing their commitment to our communities in Somerset.
"That we believe that public services are important and worth fighting for.
"We’re clear that if we want to preserve them in the future then the staff that provide them deserve fair pay for the work they do.
"Anything less will inevitably lead to poorer services in time as staff struggle to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads.
"With price rises outstripping wages for the past six years, and with interest rate rise predicted to rise sharply in the next two years, something has to change.”
He added that while local government workers have long been amongst the lowest paid in the public sector, the Government has had their pay and conditions squarely in its sights since 2010.
A pay freeze in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and well below inflation rises in 2013 and 2014 has sent the pay packets of local government and school workers plummeting back to the level of the 1990s.
UNISON South West, Regional Secretary Joanne Kaye said: “All of our members who work in Local Government contribute to the quality of life for all our citizens, in towns, cities and villages.
"They clean the streets, empty the bins and make sure the street lights come on at dark.
"They care for the elderly in their own homes or in residential care.
“All of these jobs are done in a climate of vanishing resources.
"The plasters on the grazed knees are all too often brought in by the school secretary herself.
"The home carer, given 15 minutes to care for an elderly person, who knows they will be the sole face that person sees all day, that caring front line carer who stays longer, working for free because walking out on time is too hard.”
She added: "365 days a year, our members work in roles they love, but which often take a huge emotional demand. And in return, they are told they cost too much, their pay is frozen year on year and then a desultory 1% offer is made.
"In 2010 when the Chancellor announced a public sector pay freeze, with £250 for those earning less than £21,000, workers in Local Government were left out, even though research shows overwhelmingly that money earned in wages is spent in local businesses and boosts the economy.”
UNISON is urging the employers to get back to the negotiating table with an offer that recognises the invaluable contribution members make to their local communities.
Belinda Burton, Branch Secretary for UNISON Somerset County Branch said:
“Council workers have kept on going in the face of four years of relentless government cuts to keep local services in Somerset running.
"These are people who care deeply about serving the public. They look after our elderly and our vulnerable, keep our streets clean and educate our children.
"They deserve better treatment than they have had at the hands of this government.
“Taking strike action is always a hard decision for our members but it is the only way left to them to send a clear message to the government that they have had enough.
"Since this government has been in power UNISON local government members have not gone on strike over pay, deciding instead to accept the pay offer, but there inevitably reaches a point when this is no longer sustainable.
"The government needs to listen us now and change its mind.
“It’s not just bad for workers affected by low wages, it’s bad for local economies like Somerset to have so many families struggling to get by.
"A better pay offer would be of benefit to the wider economy and better for the government’s finances as the tax take increases and fewer families are reliant on in-work benefits, such as housing benefit and family tax credits.
“The employers must get back into talks immediately to avoid a damaging dispute.”
RT @SomersetUNISON: #J10 | @unisontweets members picketing outside County Hall in Taunton this morning http://t.co/w8PuFdONeW— @Martin4labour 10 July 2014
RT @heath_pettifer: @unitetheunion early picket line in Taunton - County Hall followed by local BBC radio interview #J10— @chocolatewig 10 July 2014
TAUNTON Deane MP Jeremy Browne believes today's strikes will simply cause inconvenience as the country battles to get back on its feet again after the recession and hugh Government debt racked up.
He said: "People in the public and private sector have had to contribute to getting our economy back on track.
"We're starting to see some progress with the economy growing and unemployment falling.
"It would be a terrible mistake to give up now and go back to dangerous levels of borrowing.
"Nobody is claiming times are easy, but I don't think a strike will alter the fundamental economic reality.
"It will only cause inconvenience for hard-pressed parents and other people who rely on our public services and fund them through their taxes."
A UNION picket line outside County Hall, Taunton, this morning.
RT @DSFireUpdates: Some firefighters are striking today 10.00am - 7.00pm. Check your smoke & #carbon monoxide alarms! Encourage friends & f…— @COPoisoningUK 10 July 2014
RT @SpeyeJoe: Teachers will bear brunt of Gove's 'how dare they strike' message tomorrow so heres a pic of Gove ON STRIKE! http://t.co/VGmF…— @Tayinator88 10 July 2014
RT @SomersetLib: Go to http://t.co/pYfVffveLm for information about libraries and schools affected by today's industrial actions— @YoucanDoService 10 July 2014
FIREFIGHTERS in Somerset and the rest of the country are also on strike from 10am to 7pm today.
Fire Brigades Union members are protesting at Government plans to make them work longer, which they say is "unrealistic, unachievable and unaffordable".
Today's walkout is the latest in a programme of stoppages.
And firefighters are upping the ante next week with strikes on eight consecutive days staring on Monday.
Next week's industrial action will see them stop work from 6am to 8am and 5pm to 7pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
On Friday they will strike from 6am to 8am and 11pm to 1am.
Saturday sees them out from 11am to 1pm and 11pm to 1am. They will stop from 5pm to 7pm on Sunday, July 20. And they won't be working from 6am to 8am and 5pm to 7pm on Monday, July 21.
Bosses at Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service have promised to continue to respond to 999 calls, while firefighters say they will break the strike in an absolute emergency.
SOME schools are partially open, according to the county council.
They include Birchfield Community Primary School, Yeovil; Bishop's Hull Primary School; Buckland St Mary CofE Primary School; Cannington CofE Primary School; East Coker Primary; Hamp Nursery & Infant School; High Ham CofE Primary School; Horrington Primary School; Huish Primary School, Yeovil; Milford Junior School, Yeovil; Oaklands Primary School, Yeovil; Rode Methodist VC First School; St Mary's CEVC Primary School, Bridgwater.
MEMBERS of the NUT teachers union are also on strike today.
Head teachers have decided to close a number of schools across Somerset due to a lack of staff.
Schools not open today (Thursday) according to Somerset County Council include Ansford Academy, Ashlands CofE First School, Avalon School Street, Bishops Lydeard Primary School, Bowlish Infant School Shepton Mallet, Crowcombe Primary School, Oake, Bradford-on-Tone & Nyenehad Primary School, Reckleford School Yeovil, Somerset Bridge Primary School Bridgwater, St Michael’s Academy Yeovil, Stanchester Academy Stoke-sub-Hambdon, Vallis First School Frome, Wembdon St George CofE Primary School Bridgwater, Wiveliscombe Primary School.
MORE than a million people across the UK are expected to go on strike today as part of a dispute with Government over pay, pensions and cuts.
Thousands of public sector workers in Somerset are expected to take part.
This picture shows a previous UNISON demonstration in Taunton over Government cuts.