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Friday, 19 September 2014

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South Cumbria services affected as workers walk out

PICKET lines were formed by disgruntled public sector staff as they walked out in bitter disputes with the government over pay, pensions and spending cuts.

Click here to see an archive of tweets from around the country about the strikes

Council workers, teachers, civil servants and firefighters in South Cumbria joined union members nationwide as they took part in a huge strike yesterday.

Unions said successive years of pay freezes and caps have left council and school staff around 20 per cent down in real terms compared to four years ago. But civil service minister Francis Maude hit back, saying it was not right for the public to be inconvenienced – and claimed the unions’ mandates for strike action were “weak”.

Many schools across South Cumbria closed, while some council-run services such as the Park Leisure Centre and The Forum in Barrow were shut, and some libraries and council offices were affected

Unison members gathered outside Craven House in Barrow, which houses children’s and adult services for Cumbria County Council – which is being forced to find £90m of savings over the next three years.

Picketers said they were outraged that departed chief executive Jill Stannard will get a £400,000 golden goodbye – and claimed cutbacks were making it impossible to serve the public as well as they would like.

Len Sosnowsky said: “It’s about all of the issues being talked about – pensions, cuts, restructuring – we are 20 per cent worse off than we were four years ago. As a service, we used to be needs-driven. Now it’s finance-driven. It’s money, not people. And we’re talking about vulnerable people who we’re not giving a good enough service to.”

Sarah Stephens, a social worker with the children with disabilities team, said: “One third of our workers are below the living wage and two-thirds are below the poverty line. There’s less workers, less money, and more work and it’s just not possible to do it. It relies on your goodwill. The public are suffering all the time because we can’t provide all that’s asked of us.”

Nearby, GMB members who are care workers, employed by Cumbria County Council, at Mill Lane Day Centre on Walney, gathered outside Jubilee House in Abbey Road.

Billy Wood, 40, of Chestnut Grove, Ulverston, and Dave Chubb, 43, of Nelson Street, Barrow, were among the picketers.

Mr Wood has a second job in domiciliary care services and works 50 to 60-hour weeks – something he described as “not unusual” in the profession.

Mr Wood, a GMB shop steward and Unison welfare officer in the North West, said a three-year pay freeze, followed by a one per cent pay offer, had left members feeling they were “being robbed by the rich to give to the richer”.

He added: “We are care workers and our job is being so under-valued. We’re seeing the same in services like the NHS. You could argue that 10 years ago that our jobs were under-paid and under-appreciated, but now our government is rendering them completely worthless. Successive governments have let us down. Money doesn’t just disappear; it’s just being moved around to different places.”

Unison members employed by Barrow Borough Council congregated outside Barrow Town Hall. Jason Wood, a regional Unison officer, was joined by Kelly Leonard, housing; Joanne Braund-Smith, steward; Peter Carr, environmental health; and Brenda Gill, legal services.

They argued that government cuts were putting added pressure on remaining staff, while pay freezes, coupled with an increased cost of living, were making it harder to manage their own budgets.

Ms Leonard, customer services officer in housing, said: “We’re trying to provide a service for the public and are struggling to make ends meet at home. I like helping people and feeling like I’m making a difference. But I feel like I’m not being able to do that to the best of my ability.”

Unison officer Mr Wood said: “We are seeing the same issues across the North West. We are the hardest hit in terms of cuts to local councils; disproportionately so and particularly so here in Cumbria.”

Mike Cunningham, NUT Copeland Association secretary, felt the strike had been well supported by teachers in the union.

He added: “Some people feel that we’ve still got the parents and general public on our side and we didn’t need this strike, and I must say there’s a bit of me that felt that.

“But having said that, we haven’t moved since the last strike in terms of the government coming to the table to talk properly to us. If parents want good teachers standing in front of their children, we need to look at how much time teachers are having to put in.”

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