St Albans council staff join in strike action

VISITORS enjoying rare winter sunshine in St Albans city centre yesterday were greeted by balloons and banners at what was described as a picket with a party atmosphere, despite its serious message.

Upbeat members of Unison, the UK’s largest union, walked off their jobs at St Albans district council (SADC) to join a strike at the civic centre.

Karen Hollands, press officer for the St Albans branch of the union, said there were six pickets outside SADC, and an additional 20 supporters, all of whom work for the council, at the strike.

The picket began at about 7am and ended about midday, when Unison members left to join a rally in nearby Hertford.

Hundreds of thousands of members took action across the country to protect their pensions.

They are fighting proposals to make them pay more for their pensions and work longer, for less money.

Karen said: “I don’t think it’s up to public sector workers to bail out the economy when the banking sector caused this crisis. They [bankers] are still getting millions of pounds in bonuses and salaries.”

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She said pickets had been bolstered by visitors and shoppers who had voiced their support.

Karen added: “We have balloons and banners; it’s a nice party atmosphere.”

In a statement, Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude branded the nationwide strikes as disappointing as they “inconvenienced hard working men and women.”

He said: “Our offer is generous and fair to public sector workers and other taxpayers. Many low and middle income workers will actually receive a larger pension income at retirement.”

SADC chief executive Daniel Goodwin said the council was monitoring the impact of the strike and had made alternative arrangements where necessary to ensure frontline delivery of services.

He added: “We have made arrangements to support officers whose childcare arrangements are affected by teachers’ strike action by setting up a kids’ camp for their children aged 5-11.”

District councillor for Batchwood Martin Leach, group leader for Labour, said it was a “sad day for St Albans and the country.”

He added: “But I do ask people to look beyond the headlines and consider for a moment; in a time when we’re all under financial strain PCSOs, librarians, dinner ladies, teaching assistants, bin men and paramedics are being told they will lose a substantial sum from their yearly wage and lose even more a year when they retire.”

David Lloyd, cabinet member for resources at Herts County Council, said: “Local government staff already contribute a more substantial portion of their wages to their pensions than other public sector workers.

“While I understand the concerns of staff members for their retirement plans, striking is not the way forward.”

He said the council was committed to finding a way to reform the local government pension scheme that is fair to staff and affordable for the taxpayers.