Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Public sector workers take part in a march through central London yesterday in protest at governments plans to cut their pensions. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
Public sector workers take part in a march through central London yesterday in protest at governments plans to cut their pensions. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Unions and government argue over size of public sector strike in Britain

Thousands of schools closed but little other disruption after unions representing 750,000 teachers and government workers call one-day strike over plans to increase their pension contributions.

LONDON // A strike by hundreds of thousands of teachers and other public sector workers caused inconvenience but little chaos in Britain yesterday.

Walkouts by passport checkers and customs staff resulted in longer-than-usual delays for non-EU passengers arriving at Heathrow and Manchester airports, but the severe disruption predicted by both the unions and the UK Border Agency was avoided.

But about two thirds of the 23,000 state schools in England and Wales were either completely or partly closed, while passport offices were shut in London and Liverpool. Police officers were drafted in to man phones after staff at emergency call centres walked out.

Courts, driving test centres, job centres and various other government offices were also closed or manned by skeleton staff.

Unions representing 750,000 teachers and government workers had called the one-day strike after the government announced plans to increase their pension contributions in a bid to reduce the record budget deficit.

The most dire effects were predicted to affect international arrivals at airports where immigration and customs staff began walking out late on Wednesday.

However, by mid-afternoon yesterday, contingency plans, which saw managers and other staff taking up front-line posts, appeared to have averted serious problems.

Delays for non-EU citizens at Heathrow were about 45 minutes, although there was a brief, additional delay at Terminal 3 after a fire alarm was triggered yesterday afternoon, leading to a 20-minute evacuation before it was discovered to be a false alarm.

A spokesman for the airport operators said: "There have been no significant immigration delays at Heathrow so far today and we're pleased that contingency plans put into place by the UK Border Agency are working well."

Other London airports, including Gatwick, reported few, if any, delays while, in Manchester, it was taking an hour for passengers on US flights to get through immigration. Few others encountered problems.

Aside from the inconvenience to working parents who had to take the day off because schools were closed, the biggest disruption was probably on the roads. Protest marches by strikers in central London and a half-dozen other major cities disrupted traffic.

Union leaders and ministers disagreed over the impact of the strikes. The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) claimed its 240,000 government workers had given unprecedented support to the strike, while government spokesmen cast doubt on the numbers taking action.

The Cabinet Office in Downing Street suggested that fewer than half of PCS members had gone on strike, estimating that slightly fewer than 100,000 took part.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said: "What today has shown is that the vast majority of hard-working public sector employees do not support today's premature strike and have come into work today.

"I want to thank them all for coming in, ignoring the pickets and putting the public first."

But Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, claimed: "This is the best-supported strike we've ever had.

"The government made a lot of the fact that after the strike ballot, it was clear civil servants didn't support strike action, but today we can see that they have voted with their feet and sent a clear message to the government that they will not tolerate these attacks on their hard-earned pensions rights and will fight the cuts that threaten to devastate our communities and jobs."

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, estimated that up to 80 per cent of the schools in England and Wales had been affected by strikes.

"We realise that's very disruptive for parents and we do regret that," he said. "We had hoped to reach a settlement before the industrial action, but the government isn't serious about talks."

dsapsted@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National