[QODLink]
Europe
Huge public-sector strike hits the UK
Many schools and hospitals closed as workers take to the streets in protest against changes to their pensions.
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2011 20:49

British public-sector workers opposed to government pension cuts are on a 24-hour strike, which organisers say is the biggest walkout in a generation.

Two thirds of state were shut for one day, while many hospital operations have been cancelled along with courts and government offices.

Angry over a pension overhaul, which they say will require them to work longer before receiving a pension and contribute higher amounts each month to the account, organisers says as many as two million people have stayed stay away from work.

Prime Minister David Cameron played down the impact of Wednesday's strike, calling it "something of a damp squib".

Cameron said 40 per cent of schools were open and the main London airports were working properly.

Union anger has been fuelled by new curbs on public sector pay and hundreds of thousands of additional job
cuts.

The measures were outlined on Tuesday when the Conservative-led coalition government cut economic growth forecasts and said its tough austerity programme would last until 2017.

The government says Wednesday's strike could cost the nation up to $800m.

Brendan Barber, the General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, defended the strikes, telling Al Jazeera: "It is the poorest and the weakest who are too often being asked to pay for the crisis and not the elite who caused the crisis."

Work as usual

Fears of long delays at London's main Heathrow airport proved unfounded after the government flew home embassy staff to help out and recruited volunteers from other departments to carry out passport checks.

 

Al Jazeera's Lawrence Lee speaks two public sector staff who are on the 24-hour strike.

However, underground rail services were not running in Scotland and there were no trains or buses in Northern Ireland.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "Early signs show our contingency plans are minimising the impact of strike action, but waiting times at some ports may still be slightly longer than normal."

The Immigration Services Union says 80 per cent to 90 per cent of staff are striking, with 22 out of 23 workers at Calais port not showing up for work and, as far as they are aware, none of their members working at Heathrow.

The government, trying to turn around a debt-laden economy teetering on the brink of recession, says reform is needed as people are living longer and public service pensions are unaffordable.

The strikes mirror protests in other European countries where governments are trying to juggle budget deficits with the needs of an ageing population.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Featured
More than 400 gaming dens operate on native lands, but critics say social ills and inequality stack the deck.
The Palestinian president is expected to address the UN with a new proposal for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Nearly 1,200 aboriginal females have been killed or disappeared over 30 years with little justice served, critics say.
Ethnic violence has wracked China's restive Xinjiang region, leading to a tight government clampdown.
Malay artists revitalise the art of puppeteering by fusing tradition with modern characters such as Darth Vader.