Devon

Plymouth public sector workers in strike march

Image caption Plymouth University technician Roger Creagh, pictured with wife Jane, rejected government claims that there is not enough money in the pension pot

The sound of vuvuzelas created a party atmosphere in the crowd as hundreds of public service workers wheeled around Plymouth city centre.

Children were being pushed in buggies, a woman with a broken leg was driving an electric scooter and one man was wearing a tent.

But amid the upbeat atmosphere was a serious intent, the city's part in a national protest against proposed changes to public sector pensions.

"Last weekend I worked out that the combined effect of the government's changes will reduce the value of my pension by 60%," said Plymouth teacher and father of three, Duncan Osbourne, 48.

"That is so dramatic and I feel it's unjust.

"I feel you have a contract. I can't change my end of the contract. Why is the government able to change its end of the contract?"

A chill November wind swept in from the Atlantic across the wide open plaza opposite the Guildhall where the marchers were gathering. They later headed to the Holiday Inn for a rally.

Mr Osbourne's wife Beverley, 45, a secondary school supply teacher, said: "My family were miners and when I was a teenager at my local college it was during the miners' strike.

"I was in a family of six children and things were very difficult.

"But my family were standing up for what they felt was just and right, and we're doing the same now."

Education Secretary Michael Gove said it was "unfair" for taxpayers to foot the rising public sector pensions bill.

Image caption The GMB union was among about 30 unions at the march through Plymouth City Centre

A recent government report found taxpayers contribute about £32bn each year to public sector pensions, and warned the gap between contributions and payments could rise to £9bn by 2015.

Mr Gove said public sector unions "want to provide a platform for confrontation just when we all need to pull together".

But Plymouth University technician Roger Creagh, 59, insisted the government was unfairly targeting public sector pensions.

"There is enough money in the pot, the extra money is not going to pension funds, it is going to pay off the government's deficit.

"They have made private sector pensions worse by allowing bankers to steal the money and now they are trying to drive down public sector pensions as well."

'Degree of sympathy'

Loud hailers from protest group Occupy led the marchers with a chorus of "Give us what the bankers got" as the march streamed off.

Public sector employees were paid 7.8% more on average than private sector staff in April 2010, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Image caption David Colwill, right, said a "good" pension was part of the deal of working in the public sector

But teacher David Colwill, 29, rejected the claim, saying: "Most people are making a sacrifice in working for the public sector.

"But we make a trade off. I could have earned more in the private sector but the deal is that I get a good pension.

"To change it so unfairly is what we have an issue with."

The marchers, flags and banners held aloft, were applauded by a number of passers by and drivers who honked their horns in support.

Police estimated the turnout at about 500, organisers reckoned nearer 1,000.

Onlooker Roland Sloggett, 37, said: "I think there is a degree of sympathy and the government will be looking closely at how much support it gets.

"But it is not just about the city of Plymouth, it is about older economies starting to falter.

"I think it's clear that change is coming and this could be the start of something far greater."

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