Public sector workers in Chichester were united in their message for the government yesterday: hands off our pensions.
Unison members braved the wet conditions from as early as 7am, to portray their anger at the government’s plans to make them work longer for a reduced pension.
There were picket lines at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester District Council, West Sussex County Council, Chichester College, and the University of Chichester.
Teachers were also on strike at the majority of the area’s schools, as were staff at Chichester Crown Court.
Protesters at County Hall expressed their anger at the pensions cuts which they labelled as a ‘cash grab’ on workers’ hard-earned wages.
Clare Snoad, a county records office worker, said: “I think this is just a tax on lower-paid workers and it seems the government is just changing the goal posts on this issue.
“The council employs a large number of women who are going to be affected by this – the average pension is only about £4,000 but we are being tarnished with the same brush as high-level civil servants.”
Secretary for the West Sussex branch of Unison Chris Earwaker said: “We have had much more support than previously for this action as people are worried about their pensions. We have been signing up new union members like never before.
“Most people pay six per cent of their salary into pensions, which is now going to be nearly nine per cent from next April. This means someone paying £100 a month now will be paying £150 a month, which is a lot when you consider no-one is getting any pay rises and the cost of living is going up.”
She said the county’s branch had seen a dramatic increase in membership since the start of the row over pensions, with 130 new applications in November compared to a monthly average of about 40.
There were several picket lines at the entrances to St Richard’s Hospital, while ambulance staff and police staff across the county joined in.
Eddie Rowlands, 48, is a biomedical scientist at the hospital.
He said: “It’s not something anybody wants to do. It’s not something that has happened for decades in the health service.
“But people are really against the pension reforms.
“There is a general feeling that people are unfairly treated, and ‘we are all in this together’ doesn’t seem to hold much weight as an argument.”
Chichester District Council worker Shona Archer was against the idea of working until the age of 68.
She said: “It’s not quite what we had in mind when we joined local government. We would have been paying more for our pensions and working longer and getting fewer benefits at the end.
“There has not been much support from the private sector – it just shows they do not understand and perhaps having too much regard to what the government is saying.”