Highlands & Islands

Strike action: Corran ferry and schools affected

Demonstration in Inverness
Image caption Masks of Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander were worn in Inverness

A council-run ferry has been among services halted in the Highlands and Islands during industrial action by public sector workers.

Employees have gone on strike over changes planned by the UK government to pensions and working conditions.

Highland Council said the Corran ferry in Lochaber would be suspended until 06:30 on Thursday.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, NHS Highland and NHS Western Isles have warned of disruption to their services.

Pickets were set up outside council offices, some NHS premises and Scottish Natural Heritage's headquarters in Inverness.

A demonstration was held outside the Inverness office of chief secretary to the Treasury and local MP Danny Alexander.

Some people in the crowd wore masks of Mr Alexander's face.

About 500 people attended a rally that was held in Inverness.

Western Isles Trades Council has held a march and rally involving about 200 people in Stornoway.

Flora Somerville, of Unison's Western Isles local government branch, said going on strike had been a last resort.

She said: "We've been forced into it.

"The government have put through changes which will mean our pensions will decrease by as much as 15% - and they haven't ruled out further changes which could mean people getting even less, or having to work longer to get it."

All schools in the Highland Council area have been shut to pupils.

Inverness Crematorium was closed and there were no burials across the region.

No refuse collections were likely in Inverness and Nairn.

Image caption A dog at a demonstration held in Inverness

Households and businesses were asked to put bins out as normal and, if they were not emptied, there would be an effort to "catch up" over Thursday and Friday.

Highland Council said disruption to collections in Lochaber, Ross and Cromarty, Skye and Lochalsh and Sutherland would be limited.

No problems were expected in Caithness and Badenoch and Strathspey, the local authority added.

In a statement, Highland Council said 50% of its refuse collections had been affected.

Some day care services, leisure centres and service points in Highland were also disrupted.

On the Western Isles, Shawbost Primary and schools on Scalpay and in Shelibost and Tong were due to open as normal.

Pre-school provision was also expected to be available at Daliburgh, Leverhulme and Iochdar.

The comhairle said sports centres, libraries and local authority offices would be closed.

'Robust plans'

NHS Highland said an action plan put in place to cope with the 24-hour action was working.

Non-urgent activity such as most outpatient clinics, day surgery and elective surgery had been postponed.

Cancer treatments, renal dialysis, emergency mental health and maternity services were available as normal.

Chief executive Elaine Mead said: "I would like to again highlight that our priority at all times is to ensure we run a safe service, including running emergency services as well as all other essential services.

"We have robust plans to cope with such situations and we are now overseeing their implementation.

"Our senior managers will continue to monitor the situation throughout the day."

NHS Western Isles said "every possible action" had been taken to maintain services and patients would be informed of any disruption.

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