MORE than 100 people gathered in Chester's Market Square yesterday to protest against public sector pay and pension cuts.
Posters and placards bearing the words “Enough is enough” were waved as union leaders used megaphones to get their message across.
Teachers, firefighters and council staff were among those involved in the walkout, which has seen nine schools close – including Dee Banks School in Chester – and 31 partially close across the borough.
Chester’s library and records office was among those forced to shut, and the city’s Children in Need team was reduced to a ‘emergency only’ service.
Sue Lloyd, a civil servant and member of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), told the Leader: “We are strugglingl; we’ve had no real pay increase over the last few years and the cost of living just keeps on rising. It’s creating poverty.
“This [strike] is a last resort but it’s necessary for us to work together to influence the Government to make changes.”
Pay is the largest issue, as public sector salaries were frozen in 2010 and a one per cent cap introduced in 2012, which remains in place.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is also involved in a long-standing dispute with the Government over plans to increase pension contributions and raise the retirement age for firefighters from 55 to 60.
George Peers, a Chester firefighter at the protest, said: “They want us to work longer for less pension. It’s completely unfair and dangerous.”
Members of Unison, Unite and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) were also present, representing local government workers, healthcare staff and teachers. Sue Evans, a teacher from Chester who works at a special needs school in Manchester, said: “Pay is an issue and pensions are an issue; we can’t do this job until we are
68-years-old, which is the way it’s going.
“I also want to improve the reputation of teachers. People think it’s an easy job with lots of benefits and holidays, but that’s just not the case; it’s hard work.”
Across the region, around 175,000 workers were expected to take part in yesterday’s industrial action.
Speaking ahead of the strike, Peter Middleman, regional secretary for the PCS in the North West, said: “We fully expect the overwhelming majority of members to respect an emphatic ballot result and contribute to what will be a massive day of resistance.
“Hard-working public servants have rejected the bitter economic medicine that has for four years been killing the patient. George Osborne should emerge from his bubble of privilege and wake up to the fact that all but the super-wealthy are suffering at the hands of his failed austerity policies.”