Page last updated at 17:02 GMT, Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Striking workers in defiant mood

By Sallie George
BBC News, Birmingham

The rally at Birmingham Town Hall
Workers chanted and waved banners and placards
The mood was buoyant but there was no mistaking the fury felt by thousands of workers who converged outside Birmingham's Council House for a mass protest against their employer.

Council-run services across the city had ground to a halt as workers held a 24-hour walkout.

Rubbish went uncollected and schools, libraries and leisure centres were forced to close.

About 3,000 members of the workforce, ranging from refuse collectors to care home staff, teaching assistants to leisure centre workers, converged for the city centre rally.

Together they waved banners, flags and placards, clapped and blew whistles.

The council is treating us as if we are doing a hobby rather than a profession
Tracey Dainter, teaching assistant

Addressing their "comrades", union officials led the crowd in chants and songs which included "down with our unfair contracts", and "I would rather be a picket than a scab".

Over a loudspeaker, Joe Morgan, regional secretary of the GMB union, urged members of the council inside to look out of their windows and see what was happening outside.

At this, the throng turned to face the building, jeering and shouting "who are you?" at those inside.

The row between the council and its workers is centred over plans to restructure wages among some of the 55,000 employees.

The council said the new contracts were designed to deliver equal pay to men and women, but workers said the new terms left more than 4,000 facing a wage cut.

Jayne Barnes, care assistant at a day care centre for the elderly
Mrs Barnes said she had been made to feel "worthless"

Care assistant Jayne Barnes, 38, has worked for Birmingham City Council for 20 years, and was among those in the crowd.

She was one of 10 members of staff at the protest from Richard Lawn House and Evergreen Day Centre, which both care for the elderly.

Mrs Barnes said the group were representing other colleagues, who had stayed at work to ensure the residents did not suffer because of the strike.

She said the council's plans for changes to her contract had left her feeling worthless.

She said: "It is hard when they call for strike action when you do this job, because it plays on your emotions.

"To be a care worker you have to have that caring instinct and we look after vulnerable people in the community.

"But this is about feeling valued for the job that you do. It's not just the staff but the people who live in the homes who are affected as well.

"A couple of the people from the day centre said to us, 'bring us up here in our wheelchairs, we want to support you, you deserve every penny'."

Refuse collectors at the protest rally
Refuse collectors said they stood to lose thousands of pounds a year

The care worker said the council wanted to put her and her colleagues on performance related pay.

She said: "We could have a group of people caring for adults with Alzheimer's, who are all expected to do the same job but on different wages.

"They have also put us in the second to bottom pay grade, and have made it basically impossible to ever move above the grade we've been put into."

Tracey Dainter, a teaching assistant at a primary school in Quinton, said she had not been told by the council how the changes would affect her.

She said: "The council is so busy treating us as if we are doing a hobby instead of a profession.

"They need to start showing us the respect we deserve.

"We have been left out in the cold - we have no idea what is going on."

Refuse collector Gary Wilson said the changes to the pay structure planned by the council meant some salaries could be cut from about 22,000 a year to 13,200 a year.

He said: "It's like going back in time basically. My son is 21 years old and if this went ahead he would be earning more than me."

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