Hundreds in Devon marches over pensions

Hundreds of people have attended rallies in Devon as teachers and civil servants walked out in a protest over proposed changes to public sector pensions.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber addressed protesters at the Corn Exchange in Exeter and trade union members marched to a rally in Plymouth.

More than 140 schools were closed or disrupted across the county.

The prime minister has told the Commons there was no case for the strikes.

Leon Searle, who works at Jobcentre Plus in Exeter and was on the picket line in the city, said: "It was a good turnout and people passing the centre were supporting our strike.

"This is the beginning of a fight we have to win. We want fair and proper negotiation."

Unions said more than 500 people had attended the rally in Exeter.

The protests culminated in a rally in the city's Belmont Park, where singer-songwriter Billy Bragg performed.

'Have to win'

Bragg said: "Teachers do a very important job, above all other jobs. We should be encouraging people to come into the profession and stay in it.

"One of the perks of being a teacher is the pension and I fear that the quality of people coming into the profession could deteriorate."

Headteacher Pete Grainger said: "It's about children deserving passionate, energetic and vibrant teachers and the current plans on pensions could seriously affect that."

Jim McDonald, a senior representative of the PCS union, believes members felt they had no choice but to strike.

"They're very angry and upset, and extremely disappointed that they've been pushed to the point that they have no option but to take industrial action of this sort."

Some Plymouth parents said that while they could understand the strikers' motives, they had to miss work to look after their children for the day.

'Juggling act'

Mother of two Suzette Burchell, who works at a dog groomers, said she had been unable to find care for her children aged four and six.

"I have had to lose work and cancel jobs and call in favours from friends to look after them this afternoon and bring them into work with me for a couple of hours.

"It's been a huge juggling act.

"While I sympathise with the teachers, if they are going to do this, can they please try and make some arrangements for the children?

"Most parents now both have to work."

Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon Nick Harvey said: "I think it's a pity they're striking while the negotiations are still going on."

Labour MP for Plymouth Alison Seabeck said: "They have the perfect right to strike but I don't think now is the right time.

"I do think there is further room for discussion around the table."

Conservative MP for Central Devon Mel Stride said the strike was "regrettable".

"The decisions will not be made until the autumn and I feel the strikes are premature," he added.

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