Strike chaos looms

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SCHOOLS, colleges, job centres and courts are preparing for a day of chaos after hundreds of Wigan’s public servants announced they will join the biggest British strike for a century.

The borough is home to the Department for Work and Pensions’ giant Benefits Centre in Bryn and more than 700 staff there will walk out there on June 30 as part of protests about cuts to their pension scheme and longer hours.

They will be joined by 700-plus teachers and lecturers, Job Centre staff and workers at Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court.

There will be at least half a dozen picket lines across Wigan mounted by members of the Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union, National Union of Teachers (NUT), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the University and College Union (UCU). The ATL is striking for the first time in its history.

Wigan Trades Council will stage a rally in support of the workers in Market Place starting at 11am on the day.

It will be the first major co-ordinated industrial action challenge to the Government’s cuts programme.

Unions say the proposals will mean members will have to double or treble their contributions which they claim works out at the equivalent of an extra day’s work a month, working until age 68 and accepting cuts of 20-50 per cent in the value of pensions.

Chairman of the PCS DWP Wigan Area Branch Chris Holmes said that not only were the changes “unnecessary”, they were deliberately provocative and calculated to stoke up a confrontation with civil servants.

He said: “The very modest pay and pensions of public servants did not cause the recession, so they should not be blamed or punished for it.

“Our members are not on gold-plated pensions and they receive an average of £4,200 per annum.

“This strike is the first of action against a government that is determined to lower the living standards of working people whilst increasing the gap between the super rich and elite. We cannot and will not stand for this.”

Divisional Secretary of Wigan NUT Max Atkins said: “Teachers do not take strike action lightly but the overwhelming support for action by NUT members shows that teachers feel what is happening to their pensions is wrong.

“So far, the government has not backed down on its plan to announce its decision on an increase to your pension contributions once talks with the TUC close at the end of June.

“That’s why we’re taking action now to influence this decision, rather than just protesting against its imposition afterwards.”

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said: “The Coalition is absolutely committed to continuing these important talks around pension reform, which are scheduled to continue into July.

“Both sides in these talks have a responsibility to see them through. What the recent PCS, ATL and NUT ballot results show is that there is extremely limited support for the kind of strike action their union leaders want.

“There was a very low turnout for all three ballots.”