England

Public sector strikes: Workers give their reaction

Public sector workers have returned to their jobs after the 24-hour strike over pension changes which saw hundreds of thousands of people at rallies, marches and on picket lines.

Unions object to government plans to make their members pay more and work longer to earn their pensions. Some of the workers who told the BBC why they were going on strike, reveal how it went.

Teacher Julia Neal, 55

Teacher Julia Neal said like many others, her south Devon school was closed by Wednesday's strike.

"The majority of staff were involved in the strike," she said.

She went on a march through Exeter and believes 3,000 to 4,000 people took part.

"It was a big, long march and we were very well received by people," she said.

"As we marched through the streets of Exeter we were applauded by people, some took our pictures and they were coming up to us and saying 'well done for standing up for yourselves'.

"I was surprised really. There wasn't anything negative at all."

She added: "It was quite uplifting, being there with all the other unions and marching in solidarity."

'Clear message'

Ms Neal, a teacher for 33 years, fears the pensions changes will deter people from entering the profession and ultimately have an impact on education.

After the march, she went to a rally at a football stadium and listened to speeches by union representatives.

She said events were well attended and the day had sent a "clear message" to the government.

"Some people were on strike for the first time. People were prepared to strike and lose a day's pay just before Christmas to get the message out there. It was very powerful.

"I did not think David Cameron's comment that the day was a "damp squib" did in any way do it justice."

Ms Neal, a member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said she would strike again.

"We mustn't give up and must work to get a fair deal for all public sector workers," she said.

Probation officer Tania Bassett, 34

Image caption Tania Bassett said the pension changes must be fought

Tania Bassett is a probation officer and chairman of the West Mercia branch of its trade union body Napo.

She picketed outside her office with about 12 other union members before they joined a march through Worcester city centre.

"We had about 600 people marching through Worcester, which is a very Middle England, Conservative place.

"So if you can get 600 people marching through Worcester that's a very strong sign of how things are."

She added: "A lot of people brought their children along, because a lot of the schools were closed, and there was a fun atmosphere.

"There was a lot of public support".

She said the majority of the 370 probation staff in her division had been on strike and one its six offices had closed as a result.

Ms Bassett believes the strike across the country was effective.

"I think we really did a lot to raise public awareness," she said. "And seeing people such as nurses and teachers shows the public it's not about "fat cat public sector workers" and brings home that it's ordinary people."

Ms Bassett fears inadequate pension cover for public and private sector workers will eventually result in millions of pensioners living in poverty.

She said she "absolutely" would strike again and believes such action would help gain a better deal, adding: "We have to think like that.

"We have to make a stand and have to tell the government how we feel. If the Suffragettes hadn't done what they had we wouldn't be where we are today."

Civil servant Jeff McGough, 33

Image caption Jeff McGough has attended previous demonstrations

Father-of-two Jeff McGough joined a picket line outside Durham's Passport Office early on Wednesday.

Mr McGough, who speaks in his role as secretary for the Public and Commercial Services Union (Identity and Passport Service northern branch), said about 95% of union members there had been on strike.

"There was huge support from members and a great deal of public support with cars sounding their horns and people taking our 'Fair Pensions for All' leaflets," he said.

"One former civil servant told me they received £60 a week, which demonstrates we do not get the gold-plated pensions we're accused of - and that's under the old scheme.

"It makes me frightened as a man of 33 that I'm not going to get very much even if I work until 68."

'Will always negotiate'

The IPS workers staged a rally in Durham Market Place where they were joined by students and striking clinical psychologists.

Mr McGough said the strikes were well supported had an impact in the North East, where about 90% of schools were closed.

"I think it demonstrates how employees do feel really aggrieved about these changes," he said.

He added: "The PCS and other unions are ready to take further action if necessary but will always negotiate to achieve a mutually acceptable settlement."

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "We listened to the concerns of public sector workers about their pensions and responded with a new generous offer which is beyond the dreams of most private employees.

"... We hope to be able to reach a deal. The talks, despite the strike action, have been going well."

She added the government had made it clear that the deadline for reaching an agreement was the end of the year.

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