28 March 2006

Transport early victim of strike

BBC


Public transport is to be disrupted by the strike

Some transport services have been cancelled on Monday night ahead of Tuesday's public services strike, Translink has said.

The strike's biggest impact is likely to be on public transport but school canteens, leisure centres and bin collections may also be affected.

The workers are taking the action over changes to pension entitlements.

Northern Ireland Housing Executive staff are also planning to walk out.

Transport Minister Shaun Woodward said the public would "better understand" the reasons for the strike "if proper consultation had taken place".

"Obviously it would be great if people could think about more car-sharing than normal, but of course we all regret the fact that the strike is taking place," he said.

Consultation

"It is particularly a shame, because we could have had more consultation before we got to this point."

Transport and General Workers Union spokesman Sean Smyth said the union had tried to minimise disruption on Tuesday but "felt it had no choice".

"These proposed changes to our pensions are being introduced in October... without consultation in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Just like the water charges will be introduced, just like the rates changes... and the £100m cut in the education budget last year introduced without consultation."

Up to 50,000 public sector workers are expected to join the one day stoppage, the first stage in a planned programme of rolling industrial action.

All bus and rail services, including the Enterprise service to Dublin, are expected to be severely disrupted or cancelled.

Disruption

Schools, however, are likely to bear the brunt of the stoppage with 65,000 pupils who use school buses having to make alternative arrangements.

In rural areas disruption to the school day is likely to be very severe.

Non-teaching staff from the five education boards, such as caterers, cleaners, classroom assistants, nursery assistants, secretaries, technicians, caretakers, and lollipop men and women are also likely to be out on strike.

For some schools having a full day of lessons might not even be possible in those circumstances.

In Belfast, the bus lanes have been thrown open for commuters because of the expected increase in traffic.

Major roadworks at the Westlink in Belfast could mean even more congestion.

Most council buildings will have staff out on strike including cemeteries and leisure centres.

Some leisure centres will be closed completely while others may be operating on a reduced service.

In Belfast black bins due to be lifted on Tuesday will not be lifted until 4 April. Fortnightly cycle bins will be lifted on Saturday.

Fortnightly brown bins will be lifted on 11 April and there will possibly be no collection on commercial waste or bulk waste.

Events and meetings at the Waterfront and Ulster Halls will go ahead as normal.

Management at the council-run City of Derry airport said flights were expected to take off and land as normal after staff agreed to make their protest in a way that would not affect airport operations.

The majority of Housing Executive staff are members of NIPSA but management said that in the event of disruption they would concentrate on key services to the homeless.

Bus drivers are among about 50,000 workers expected to take part in the action over pensions.

Pensions

The UK-wide dispute is over the age at which workers can retire on a full pension. Currently it is 60 - but the government wants to change it to 65.

The unions feel they are being treated unfairly and have planned a number of rallies across Britain and Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

Striking workers are to assemble at Belfast City Hall on Tuesday morning for a march to Transport House.

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