Public sector workers go on march against pension cuts

Public Sector strikers at the Conquest
Public Sector strikers at the Conquest

HUNDREDS of union members took part this week in one of the biggest strike demonstrations ever witnessed in Hastings.

Hospital staff, council workers and civil servants united in their fight to secure a better pension deal from the Government.

School playgrounds were deserted and hospital appointments cancelled as union members voted with their feet to try to send a clear message to the Government joining more than one million across the country.

From the crack of dawn on Wednesday, staff at the Conquest Hospital were out manning a picket line before heading down to Hastings Pier to join up to 1,000 fellow union members at a mass rally.

Waving placards and banners, they listened to speeches from union leaders and council leader Jeremy Birch.

Most schools across Hastings and St Leonards were closed for the day. Across the county 145 schools were affected with 119 closed and 26 partly closed.

Hastings Magistrates Court was closed for criminal cases as legal advisers were sent on a training day. However 70 per cent of the staff went out on strike. South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust was responding to only life-threatening emergencies during the day because of the number of staff joining the action.

At the Conquest Hospital, some out-patient appointments were cancelled but all planned operations went ahead.

Some line managers were brought back onto the floor to help with maintenance jobs.

Jonathan Lee, a charge nurse at the hospital, said: “We had around 20 people on the picket line at 6am. We received lots of messages of support from the public and drivers passing by tooted their horns.

“When I went to the mass rally at the pier I noticed up to 50 staff there and up to 30 trade unions represented.

“We had such a positive response because everyone knows it was nothing against the hospital trust, it was totally against the Government. We worked with the management to make sure essential services were not affected. The attack on the public sector is wrong as we are the most vulnerable. I’m 47 but will have to work another 20 years before I get my pension.”

Rowan Williams, a legal adviser at Hastings Magistrates Court, joined a picket line at Lewes Crown Court. She said: “The Government is making us work longer and harder for less in our pensions.

“I started in 1982 and was meant to retire at 60 but now I’m going to have work for longer. I can afford the extra pension payments but there are many who can’t afford it and won’t pay. Thousands of people are now facing poverty in their old age.”

Julie Lawrence, regional negotiator for Unison, said 20 of its branches across Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne had taken industrial action.

She said: “It was very well supported action and the reaction from the public was excellent.

“We have 43 per cent of the workforce in Hastings employed in the public sector, so it has a huge impact here. I even saw some chiropodists out on strike which was a first. The most vulnerable are low-paid women workers. The average female civil servant would receive £57 a week on retirement while the average pension for a female nurse is £67 a week.

“This is totally unacceptable and the trigger point for much of our demonstrations.”