Hastings braces itself for widespread strike action

NHS staff at the Conquest Hospital, Hastings preparing for strike action on 30 November
NHS staff at the Conquest Hospital, Hastings preparing for strike action on 30 November
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SCHOOLS are set to close, hospital nurses walk out and council workmen down tools across Hastings as part of national strike action opposing Government cutbacks.

The mass walk-out by the main teaching, civil service and other public sector unions is set to take place on Wednesday (November 30). It is in protest at proposed changes to public sector workers’ pensions and could mean schools across 1066 Country may be closed for the day, as well as the magistrates’ court, job centre and council services.

Members are picketing against Government proposals to make them work for more years before retirement, pay higher contributions towards their pension and the removal of payment calculations based on final salary.

Wednesday’s strike is part of a nationwide day of walk-outs by public sector workers and civil servants.

The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) also voted on strike action. Other unions taking part are Unison, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), as well as the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the civil service union Prospect.

Hastings and District Trades Council, backed by Hastings Against Cuts, is organising a march in support of the strikes on Wednesday.

Demonstrators are planning to meet at Hastings Pier at 11.30am before marching to the town centre for a rally with speakers.

Sam Buckley, of Hastings Against the Cuts, said: “This is a vital opportunity to say to this Government that we do not support these cuts.

“We do not accept the necessity for them and that we will not tolerate the impoverishment of our town and the destruction of our public services in the name of ‘responsibility’ while the rich and powerful continue to be untouched by the crisis they created.

“These pension cuts will leave the average worker paying a month’s extra salary a year in exchange for a smaller pension starting after years more work, all to cut a deficit created by the bailing out of banks, the tax evasion of large corporations and the constant funnelling of public money into private hands.”

Unite, which represents around 1,000 local government and health workers in Sussex, voted three to one to join other unions in striking on Wednesday.

A spokesman for East Sussex Council said the decision whether or not to close schools would be taken on an individual basis by headteachers to make sure they have enough staff.

Becky Shaw, chief executive at East Sussex County Council said: “We recognise that the proposed changes to pensions are of concern to many of our staff.

“However, we must ensure that essential services are maintained throughout any industrial action because of the potential impact on those in the community who depend on our services. We will prioritise services to ensure we continue to meet our obligations.”

Kevin Boorman, spokesman for Hastings Borough Council, said: “We are expecting some staff to take part in industrial action but we won’t know who until the day.

“We have a contingency plan for services like our Homelessness project but we just don’t know exactly how routine services will be affected.”

Parents will be informed of any closures by the school through the usual channels of email, text or letters home and East Sussex County Council will set up a notification system on its website.

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IN an open letter to The Observer, four staff at the Conquest Hospital explain why they will be going on strike on Wednesday. It is signed by Jonathan Lee, a charge nurse, Victoria Fradd, a biomedical scientist, Dave Verlander, hospital chef, and Elaine Faulkner, a physiotherapist.

Dear Editor,

We work at the Conquest Hospital and are asking all your readers to support us and other public service workers when we take strike action on Wednesday (November 30).

We know that it’s a big ask because the Government is doing its best to make out that our pensions are massive and unaffordable – and that is just not true.

The average NHS pension is £7,000 but for a woman this falls to around £3,000 – not exactly a fortune. The NHS pension scheme was renegotiated only a few years ago to make sure that it was fair and sustainable. £2 billion more goes into the scheme each year than is paid out to retired members. We currently pay between six to eight per cent of our wage towards our pension but now the Government is coming after us for more with a 50 per cent increase in contributions and demanding us to work longer for a lower pension.

The schemes are still sustainable and we don’t believe a penny of the extra money that they plan to take from our pay will be going into the pension scheme – it is being used to pay off the national deficit.

We understand concerns about patient safety and we will ensure that emergency care continues. We do need to make it clear why we, along with millions of other public service workers, will be going on strike.