28 March 2006

Union says more strikes possible


A trade union has said it believes a one-day strike has advanced the cause of protesting public service workers.

Nipsa also warned that more strikes "may be on the way" unless the government withdraws its pension proposals.

Thousands of public sector workers have taken part in the industrial action across Northern Ireland.

Bus and rail services were cancelled and some 65,000 pupils who use school buses had to make other plans.

A small number of schools closed. School meals and library services were badly hit.

About 2,000 people joined a march and rally at Belfast City Hall as part of the UK-wide day of industrial action.

There were also lunchtime rallies at Guildhall Square in Londonderry, the courthouse in Omagh and at the Diamond in Enniskillen.

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

There were traffic delays in parts of Northern Ireland, but no reports of serious congestion.

Morning rush hour traffic coming into Belfast was heavier than normal with delays reported on some major routes.

School canteens, leisure centres and bin collections were also affected.

The Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) said the strike had an impact on several school services and on library provision.

Most drivers of board buses - which carry about 15,000 pupils - reported for work.

However, 14,000 students in the board area are transported by Translink vehicles.

The Western Education and Library Board said more than 8,000 pupils out of almost 12,000 had been transported to school in board-operated buses. It said that there had been minimal disruption to catering services.

Unions involved in the strike included Nipsa, Siptu, TGWU, ATGWU, Amicus and Unison.

Albert Mills from the Transport and General Workers Union said strikers had to take action to protect pension arrangements.

Brian Campfield, deputy general secretary of Nipsa, said he believed the protesters had advanced their cause.

"We didn't go out to stop children going to school or people going to work," he said.

"We went out on strike today to send a clear message to the deputy prime minister that local government workers are not prepared to accept these attacks on their pension scheme."

He said more strikes were possible if the government did not withdraw its proposals.

However, Nigel Smyth from the employers organisation, the CBI, said the strike was an example of trades unionism at its worst.

"If the trade unions get their way somebody has to pay for this," he said.

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