UK public sector strikes over pensions

Schools, air travel, courts and public offices affected in test of government's commitment to austerity measures.

    British teachers, air traffic controllers, customs officers, and other civil servants are staging a one-day strike over plans to reform public sector pensions in one of the UK's biggest protests over proposed austerity cuts intended to slash the country's budget deficit

    Protestors are demonstrating in many British cities, including London, where thousands marched peacefully in the centre of the city, their route took them in front of the prime minister's office at 10 Downing street

    Mark Serwotka, head of the UK's biggest public sector union, said, “We’re striking now because the government has made it absolutely clear they intend to make our workers work eight years longer, pay thousands of pounds more and get half the pension they currently get.”

    Al Jazeera's Shamim Chaudery reported that more than 3,000 schools in England and Wales were closed for the day.

    Air passengers were also expected to face airport delays as immigration officials joined the walkout of almost 750,000 workers. Courts and government buildings were also affected.

    Protests are peaceful

    The reaction mirrors responses to government-imposed austerity measures across continental Europe.

    In video

    Tim Friend reports live from London about the protests

    However, Al Jazeera's Tim Friend, reporting from London, said that unlike the atmosphere in Greece protests were "very good natured".

    He said the protests, although also about austerity measures, were focused more on pension cuts.

    "What they're most worried about is having to work longer for less," said Friend.

    "What they say is that it's not the original deal and contract that they had with the goverment," he said.

    These reactions are however expected to be a taste of wider protests over pensions later this year, an area that public sector unions are determined to stand their ground on.

    Cameron criticises protests

    Prime Minister David Cameron calls the strikes "irresponsible", saying that talks between unions and ministers had not concluded.

    Francis Maude, cabinet office minister, said the government had met unions on Monday for talks and would meet them again next week.

    "It is absolutely unjustifiable for parents up and down the country to be inconvenienced like this, forced to lose a day's work when they are trying to go out to work to earn money to pay the taxes that are going to support teachers' pensions," Maude told BBC television.

    Cameron said that longer life-expectancy meant that public sector pensions must change to ensure that they are affordable.
     
    The changes are part of government plans by 2015 to virtually wipe out a budget deficit that peaked at more than 10 per cent.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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