School strike brings chaos

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Thousands of families had their working lives thrown into chaos today as schools closed just a week before the start of the summer holidays.

Members of the National Union of Teachers stage their second national strike of the year and public sector workers are also holding a national one-day strike.

ON THE MARCH: A previous protest by teachers in Preston

ON THE MARCH: A previous protest by teachers in Preston

Around a quarter of the county’s schools were forced to close their doors as the NUT reinstated a day of action postponed in June over the lack of progress with talks on pay and conditions.

Many more schools are operating a skeleton service as members of other unions, including school catering and welfare staff, are set to join other public sector workers marching through Preston city centre before congregating for a mass rally in the Flag Market.

Teachers have been locked in an ongoing battle over pay, pensions and working conditions for the past two years and although other teaching unions are also at loggerheads with the Government they did not join the strike.

NUT officials said the strike was a “last resort” saying attempts to discuss issues, ranging from the use of unqualified teachers in classrooms to the new curriculum, with Education Secretary Michael Gove fell on deaf ear.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said there was “no justification for further strikes,” adding: “The unions asked for talks, we agreed to their request and talks are ongoing. Ministers have also met frequently with the unions and will continue to do so. Further strike action will only disrupt parents’ lives, hold back children’s education and damage the reputation of the profession.”

County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “In the main, schools manage themselves, so headteachers must decide how to deal with the strike, based on their own circumstances.”

One mum of two, who did not wish to be named said: “ I have had to take a day off work without pay because of the strike and to add insult to injury my son’s class is off school for the second time this year while other pupils’ whose teachers are not in this union are in school and not missing out on their education.”

Another added: “ I have been fortunate to be able to take a day’s holiday but if other people in the office had been off I would have been in a mess. I have no sympathy for teachers striking so close to the long summer holidays.”

Other unions involved in today’s strike included Unite, Unison, GMB, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

Unite regional officer, Debbie Brannan said: “Our members across the North West have endured four years of pay cuts in real terms and they have now voted overwhelmingly to strike to drive home the message to ministers that ‘poverty pay’ in local government must end.

“The depth of feeling on the pay issue is reinforced by the fact that local government unions, GMB and Unison, and members of the National Union of Teachers are all taking action.”

She added: “The aim is to get the employers back around the table to negotiate a fair deal for those who deliver vital local government services, from social care to refuse collection, on a daily basis.”

Fire fighters joined the one-day walk-out, with picket lines outside stations across the county.

And today’s action comes ahead of eight days of fire strikes from next week.

Lancashire Fire Brigades Union (FBU) chairman Kevin Deacon said: “The FBU members are mandated to take industrial action from 10am to 7pm, and there is more programmed for next week.

“They start on July 14 until July 21 for two hours in the morning and evening for an eight day period.”

FBU members are in dispute with the government over proposed pension changes, and will strike “in solidarity” with other trade unions.

Kevin said: “There’s no offer on the table - that’s why industrial action is the only route left to take.

“No firefighter or FBU member in the country wants to take industrial action, it’s the last resort, but there’s nothing else we can do to make the fire minister listen to our concerns.”
He added: “It’s in solidarity with the trade union movement.

“If we had another proposal on the table we wouldn’t be striking, but there’s been no other proposal.”

Chief Fire Officer, Chris Kenny said: “This is a national dispute between the FBU and Government and is not a dispute between Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) and our firefighters.

“We do have a significant number of our staff who have given a commitment to maintain emergency cover and as a result the public can be reassured that the service plan to keep the majority of fire engines in Lancashire operational during the dispute period.

“We would urge all members of the public to be extra vigilant and be aware that for minor fires in particular, there may be a longer wait for a fire engine.”

Disruption could be felt across Preston as public sector workers joined the strike.

Offices in the Town Hall and Lancastria House were closed to the public, as well as the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.

People were unable to book funerals or cremations at Preston Cemetery or Preston Crematorium, but the books of remembrance were open for people wishing to pay their respects.

But in South Ribble, it was “business as usual” during the industrial action, with people being directed to the council’s website if there were telephone delays.

Services at Chorley Council were also expected to be running as usual.