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Thursday, 30 October 2014

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Public sector staff in Cumbria on strike in pensions row

Public sector workers in Cumbria joined an estimated 400,000 nationally taking industrial action today over changes to pensions.

Those on strike include civil servants, lecturers, health workers, Ministry of Defence staff, immigration officers and civilian police support staff.

Four pickets from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) braved driving rain outside Eden Bridge House, the Rural Payments Agency’s offices in Lowther Street, Carlisle, this morning.

They were in defiant mood, buoyed by toots of support from passing motorists.

Vivienne Frazer, an admin officer, said: “We forced the last government to back down when it proposed pension reforms in 2002 and we will do it again.

“We are not against different pensions for new starters but we think existing staff should retain what we have.”

She said that almost all PCS members were supporting the strike. The only people going into work were non members.

Fellow picket Steven McCormick, a team leader, said: “We have been forced to strike because the Government is unwilling to negotiate or listen to us.

“When I started this job 12 years ago I could have gone to university instead.

“I chose to come here because I knew I would get a good pension and be able to retire at a reasonable age. That is being taken away from me now.”

The strikers’ anger was fuelled by ministers making clear in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech that they are pressing ahead with their controversial reforms.

Ministers argue that the current level of public-sector pensions is unsustainable and reforms are needed, saying workers will still receive decent pensions.

The strike follows last November’s stoppage by 1.5m workers in protest at changes to pensions.

Most public sector unions remain opposed to the reforms, which they claim will leave millions having to pay more into their pensions, retiring later and receiving less when they stop work.

Meanwhile, around 100 off-duty police officers from Cumbria were due to take part in a march on Whitehall in a huge protest at budget cuts and planned changes to the service.

Most boarded coaches early this morning and were due to meet colleagues in London for a demonstration involving 20,000 officers from across the country for the march at midday. The planned route passed the Home Office and the Houses of Parliament before stopping at a memorial on The Mall for wreaths to be laid in honour of fallen colleagues.

Lee Skelton, chairman of the force union, Cumbria Police Federation, said the march would demonstrate the extent of the “anger” felt. He said the budget cuts were the “biggest and most emotive issue for everybody” and had already led to a reduction in frontline policing.

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