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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Council strike brings disruption
A protest march of council workers in Pontypridd
Striking workers held rallies in support of their pensions claim
More than 80,000 council workers in Wales have taken part in a one-day strike which brought many municipal services to a standstill.

Unions are opposed to plans by the UK Government to reform the pension system and withdraw a rule which lets staff retire at 60.

Unions have claimed up to 90% turnout for the strike in some areas.

They warn they are prepared to repeat their action with a two-day strike if there is no progress in negotiations.

At least 739 schools across Wales were closed but with wide variations on how schools are affected across the 22 Welsh local authorities. In Pembrokeshire, just one school closed, while in Neath Port Talbot no schools opened during the day.

COUNCIL EMERGENCY NUMBERS
Anglesey (01248) 750057
Blaenau Gwent (01495) 311556
Bridgend (01656) 643643
Caerphilly (01443) 875500
Cardiff (029 20) 872087
Carmarthenshire TBC
Ceredigion (01545) 574000
Conwy ( 01492) 515777
Denbighshire (01824) 706555
Flintshire (01352) 752121
Gwynedd (01286) 672255
Merthyr (01685 385231)
Monmouthshire (01495) 762200
Neath Port Talbot (01639) 764555/01639 764777 (repairs)
Newport (01633) 656656
Pembrokeshire (01437) 764551
Powys (01597) 825275
RCT TBC
Swansea (01792) 636000
Torfaen (01495) 762200
Vale of Glamorgan (01446) 700111
Wrexham social services (01978) 267000 repairs: 08000 855808; other (01978) 367900

Schools were not the only local authority service affected by the dispute which, UK-wide, may have been the biggest walk out since the 1926 general strike.

Leisure centres, swimming pools and libraries were also hit, as well as rubbish collection. In north Wales, only people on Anglesey have had their bins emptied.

Office staff at North Wales Police, Snowdonia National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, the Welsh Development Agency, the Probation Service, and office workers at the North Wales Fire Service were also out for the day.

Phone callers to Gwent Police headquarters heard a recorded message asking all but emergency callers to ring back on Wednesday.

Pickets at County Hall, Cardiff, on Tuesday
Picket lines formed at council buildings across Wales

Picket lines were set up outside major public buildings as well as council offices and highway depots, and hundreds of strikers attended rallies in Newport, Cardiff, Port Talbot, Pontypridd, Ruthin and Swansea.

Some areas with municipal bus services lost their drivers.

Unison regional official Maclom Harrington apologied for the disruption affecting the public but said workers had to fight for their pensions.

He said: "This is the message all over. I have been in contact with some of my colleagues in other authorities as well this morning and some have got about 90% turnout and I think we've got about 85% turnout.

Lower pension

"There is no intention of us to actually withdraw any services because we have tried out best and we just hope the government will listen now to what's being said all over the country."

Paul O'Shea, Welsh spokesman for public sector union Unison said he was "very pleased" with response to the strike.

Unions have taken the industrial action over a long-running row about the age at which their members can retire on a full pension.

They say the proposals would mean workers choosing to retire at 60 would get a lower pension and in reality would be forced to work an extra five years.

Across Britain, more than people took action, including, housing officers, nursery nurses, youth and community staff and tourism officials.

The Welsh Local Government Association urged people to contact their local authority's emergency number for information about what services were running in their area.

Further discussions

Steve Thomas, director of WLGA, said the disruption was "fairly widespread as we expected".

He added that he was looking for all parties involved to take part in further discussions.

At present, members of local government pension schemes can retire at 60 on a full pension if their age and years of service combined reaches 85.

Last December Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced that the government planned to remove the so-called "Rule 85" because it would be illegal when a new European Union directive on age discrimination came into force.


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