Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Thousands of public servants in Wales on 48-hour strike

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Job centres, tax offices and other agencies are expected to be hit

Up to 20,000 civil and public servants in Wales are joining a UK-wide strike in a dispute over redundancy terms.

The 48-hour stoppage by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union is affecting job centres and courts, and the Welsh assembly government.

The UK government insists the new rules are "fair" to both staff and taxpayers.

A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government said: "We are working to manage any disruption to minimise the impact on the services we provide."

The national assembly has postponed Tuesday's scheduled plenary meeting until Wednesday morning in light of the strike.

The month-long action, starting with a two-day stoppage, is part of a dispute over changes to redundancy terms.

The UK government is trying to impose new rules, which would mean a maximum redundancy payment of two years salary for those earning over £30,000 a year.

Five trade unions have accepted the changes, but the PCS - which represents half of all civil servants - is fighting them.

Peter Harris, the Welsh chair of the PCS union, said efficiency changes were one thing but changes in redundancy terms for those losing jobs were not fair.

Nearly two thirds of PCS members backed the strike, with more than 81% also supporting an overtime ban.

The PCS claim the changes will see staff losing up to a third of their redundancy entitlements and could see tens of thousands of jobs being lost "on the cheap".

Glynis Millward is a civil servant from Cardiff who is taking part in the strike.

She said: "I feel aggrieved because the government has torn up our existing contracts.

"I have worked for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs for 28 years. I deal with large and complex companies and travel a lot for my job. For this I am not paid well.

"Public sector workers are operating under an existing agreement that means we accept lower wages for a better redundancy package. Now all of this is being thrown away."

'Disappointed'

Rallies are being held in Cardiff and Swansea, with pickets also outside some government buildings around Wales.

However, by 1300 GMT on Tuesday there were no pickets outside the national assembly.

Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell said she was disappointed the PCS was taking industrial action.

She said: "The changes to the civil service compensation scheme were agreed with five of the six civil service unions after 18 months of negotiation and consultation.

"These unions all agree with us that the resulting deal is fair for staff and taxpayers."

The employers are essentially the Labour government and for the employers to come out in support of the employees strikes me as odd
Nick Bourne, Welsh Conservatives leader

PCS Welsh secretary Peter Harris said civil servants did not "strike at the drop of a hat".

He told the BBC's Politics Show: "While bankers receive contractual bonuses civil servants have to lose their contractual redundancy payments."

He said many civil servants would lose "tens of thousands of pounds" in redundancy pay outs.

But Nick Bourne, leader of the Conservative party in the assembly, said: "For us it's business as usual...

"While we defend the union's right to hold this strike - and no matter how justified the dispute may be - I am concerned that the decision to cancel all assembly business sets a dangerous precedent.

"I am sure, therefore, that the union will accept our need to carry on working as normal representing the people of Wales."

He said the Tories recognised the union had "genuine grievances" and said workers had "every right to strike".

Responding to comments that Labour and Plaid members would not cross a picket line, he said: "The employers are essentially the Labour government and for the employers to come out in support of the employees strikes me as odd."

Though there will be no plenary meeting of the assembly on Tuesday, it will proceed both morning and afternoon on Wednesday (from 1030 GMT) so that the planned business for the week can be completed.

As well as government offices and agencies, ports could also be affected, although contingency plans are in place to minimise disruption.

The chief executive of the UK Border Agency Lin Homer said "We are disappointed that PCS union members have voted in favour of industrial action. It means that the travelling public are likely to suffer disruption and delays at border controls as a result of this two-day action."

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) urged boat users to examine their plans very carefully, although there were contingency plans to provide an emergency service. The rescue teams themselves will continue to operate as normal.



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Yahoo! UK and Ireland Democracy disrupted by civil servants' strike - 24 mins ago
Times Online PCS union claims 200,000 civil servants on strike over redundancy cuts - 12 hrs ago
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