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Huge pensions strike spreads across Britain

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Mar 28 (Reuters) Up to 1.5 million local government workers went on strike across Britain today, closing thousands of schools and disrupting travel in a bitter row about pensions.

Eleven labour unions have combined to stage the 24-hour protest which they said would be the biggest industrial action since the 1926 General Strike.

In Liverpool, commuters were disrupted as the Mersey tunnels shut and ferries stopped running. The Metro on Tyneside was also closed.

In London, the Tower of London was closed and the Thames Barrier was reduced to emergency staffing levels. Up to 70 percent of the capital's schools were also expected to stay shut.

At issue is the government's decision to scrap the so-called 85-year rule, which states that members of the Local Government Pension Scheme can retire at 60 on a full pension if their age and years of service add up to 85 or more.

Employees in the scheme include carers, charity workers, refuse collectors, leisure centre workers and people who work in call centres, environmental services and housing associations.

Brian Strutton, national secretary of the GMB union, said his workers just wanted to see fairness in their pension system.

"Why should thousands of low paid, long serving dinner ladies and classroom assistants lose a quarter of their pension for retiring at 60 when the better paid teachers they work alongside can retire on an unreduced pension," he added in a statement.

"Workers doing jobs on the roads, in care homes, on buses, in libraries, on canals and throughout all local communities up and down the country will be standing together to face down these cynical attacks." A spokeswoman for Unison, the country's biggest union, said they had seen solid support across the country early this morning.

Unison says today's walk out is just the first in a series of strikes after 80 per cent of their members voted for action.

In Northern Ireland, all buses and trains were cancelled, the unions said, and in northern England, the regional airport Leeds Bradford was severely affected as some staff joined protest rallies.

Police and Fire Brigade control rooms have also been affected as office staff went on strike but the unions say emergency services will work as normal.

They argue the law is unfair as other public sector workers have had their retirement rights protected. The change in the rules is due to come into effect in October this year.

Anyone wanting to travel to France today would also face delays as French trade unions staged a one-day national strike over a new job law. Airports were expected to be affected but the Eurostar line from London was still running.

REUTERS YA RK1430

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