27 March 2006

Commuters and schools face chaos

Belfast Telegraph

One-day strike 'only start' of union campaign

By Debra Douglas and Kathryn Torney
27 March 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCommuter chaos and serious disruption at schools is feared tomorrow as Northern Ireland braces itself for a major one-day strike across public services.

Up to 50,000 staff in Ulster's councils, schools, colleges, public transport and the Housing Executive are due to strike as part of a UK-wide protest against Government plans to cut pension entitlement.

With public transport expected to grind to a standstill as Translink, Ulsterbus and Metro bus staff join the industrial action, more commuters will have to drive to work, leading to even more congestion on Ulster's busiest roads, including the lane-restricted Westlink.

All bus and rail services, including the Enterprise, are expected to be severely disrupted or cancelled with a number of services later tonight also halted.

School buses will also be severely affected - 65,000 pupils will have to find alternative arrangements for getting to and from school.

A spokesperson for Translink said: "There will be severe disruption across all services. It is most likely there will be no trains or buses running but we will not know until tomorrow.

"We would advise passengers to make alternative arrangements for their journeys and apologise to them for any inconvenience caused."

Schools are also likely to be severely hit by the strike action.

Non-teaching staff from Northern Ireland's five education boards due to be involved include catering, cleaning, classroom assistants, nursery assistants, secretaries, technicians, caretakers, crossing patrols, school bus drivers and escorts and headquarters staff.

Trade union Nipsa has warned that home to school transport will not be available, schools meals will be badly affected, schools may not be open and many aspects of education will cease to function.

A Southern Education and Library Board spokesman said: "Principals have been advised that arrangements should be made to enable buildings to be opened for those attending work."

In the case of classroom assistants, head teachers with any health and safety concerns have been told to contact the board of governors and parents/guardians.

UUP education spokesman, David McNarry, said: "I sympathise with those seeking to protect their pensions. However, I cannot support action which disrupts school buses and prevents children from going to school."

Meanwhile, a union leader has warned the strike will be the beginning of a campaign on pension rights.

Brian Campfield, deputy general secretary of Nipsa, said: "This isn't a one-off thing - this is the beginning of a campaign."

Further information on Translink services is available on www.translink.co.uk or by telephoning 028 9066 6630.

For more information on the roads, log on to www.trafficwatchni.com or telephone 0845 7123321.

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