Live coverage of today’s mass union strike action by teachers, border control staff, health workers and others over public sector pensions.
• UK transport network suffers little disruption despite biggest strike in 30 years
• Only 58% of schools closed, despite predictions of 90%
• Government denies union claims that talks are over
• Cabinet Office minister brands 2m-strong strike “inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible”
• Francis Maude to update Commons at 12.30pm
My colleague Martin Wainwright has been speaking to NHS employees on strike in Leeds.
Most of them were strikers mostly from the bottom three bands of NHS salaried jobs. As they gathered in a local pub before a public meeting outside the town hall, they told him of their pension fears.
Maxine Berry, 39, an assistant in radiotherapy clinical trials, said:
It’s a combination of having to work longer, pay more into the pension pot and survive on pay limited to the one percent rise between now and 2014 which inflation is turning into a pay cut.
For me, it all means something like another £400 a year in contributions, and my partner’s unemployed – he’s a project manager and hasn’t yet found another job – so I’m the only earner. We’re heading for poverty, now and in our old age.
A 42-year-old gardener, who said he earned just over £15,000 and had 20 years of pension payments behind him, said striking seemed to be the only way to get the desperation of the low-paid on to the agenda of the well-off.
They just don’t have any idea of what it’s like to live on pay like ours. We know that everyone is having a hard time at the moment, but hard times are harder when you’ve so little to fall back on.
PA has more on the two arrests in Hackney this morning, also reporting that about 30 people have been detained in Dalston Lane in a separate incident.
Two protesters were detained after a female Police Community Support Officer was assaulted during clashes with strikers.
Scotland Yard said the officer was attacked as trouble flared at a bus garage in Hackney, east London.
The PCSO did not require hospital treatment but the two suspects remain in custody, the spokesman added.
About 30 people were also detained in nearby Dalston Lane to prevent a breach of the peace, the force said.
In addition, police said they have gained Section 60 stop and search powers in the Moorgate area of central London after receiving intelligence.
Despite police concerns of a breach of the peace, the Dalston arrests have left locals a little mystified, according to various posts on Twitter:
Shocking scenes at Dalston “Cops just brought dogs in, kids who were with picketing parents are terrified, crying.” #n30 #STRIKE
Dalston CLR Library-100 Police, 6 dogs, 5 vans, and a coach, to arrest 20 people for having a soundsystem on the picket-line.
Apparently people are getting kettled and arrested in Dalston. No reports of anyone actually breaking the law, mind… #n30
Spare a thought for Danny Hall, a magician employed by Gatwick Airport to entertain passengers who were delayed today. The 28-year-old is dismayed by the lack of trouble, telling PA:
I’d like a crowd. I thrive on the applause so trying to find an audience today has been more difficult than I thought it would be. People are getting their bags and moving straight on.
And in Bristol, there is a holiday atmosphere, helped by bright blue skies, reports The Guardian’s Steve Morris.
The unions believe 30,000 people across Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath. Big turn-outs on picket lines and for the main demonstration in the region.
And, obviously, the city centre is jam-packed with children who would have been at school. The German market is doing a roaring trade and the Orchard Pig cider stall has put on a special ‘Comrade’ brew – mulled cider laced with vodka to warm the strikers up.
Many grandparents are clearly in charge today but there are a good few single dads and mums who have had to take time off work.
Not many of them seemed to mind, however. PA Georgia Brabham, who was in town with her 11-year-old Leem, said:
I basically support the strike…Public sector workers do a lot of good and they deserve our support. It’s inconvenient but I don’t mind for one day.
And, outside the Bristol Royal Infirmary, patient Allison Can was having a cigarette outside. Her gall bladder operation has been postponed, but she said she was in “discomort” rather than pain.
I think this strike is uncomfortable for a lot of people but I’m not against it. People have a right to make their point.
My colleague Severin Carrell has this update from north of the border.
As Alex Salmond crossed the Scottish parliament civil servants’ picket line this morning, it emerged that one SNP MSP, John Finnie, had stayed in Inverness to support the strikers.
The SNP government has invited fierce union criticism for organising a parliamentary debate, on pensions, forcing its MSPs to attend and cross the picket lines.
Labour and Scottish Green MSPs are to boycott the debate by refusing to cross the picket lines.
It is believed to be the first time in the Scottish parliament’s 12 year history that opposition parties have failed to attend.
Unison have put out a statement condemning the Department of Health for planning to “fiddle” their figures in order to “play down” the number of health workers on strike.
The DoH’s figures would not take into account the fact that doctors, RCN and RCM members were never going to go on strike today, the union said. According to Christina McAnea, UNISON Head of Health:
The DOH are so desperate to put down the success of the NHS strike, that they are planning on how best to fiddle the figures of how many workers are taking action. They should take account of the fact that large numbers of NHS staff are members of the RCN, RCM or are doctors, and they are not taking strike action. In addition UNISON members are providing emergency cover where it is needed.
However the DOH have stopped individual Trusts from showing the real picture and are simply asking them to say how many staff should be at work and how many are working today. This will give a completely false picture of the turnout.
That means any DOH figures should [be] disregarded because they will be inaccurate. They are designed from the start to hide the fact that members of UNISON have been supporting the strike in huge numbers right across the UK.
Here’s a bit more from Denis Campbell on why some GPs are not striking:
A planned strike today by a small number of GPs is not taking place because they were warned that they would be breaking the law if they withdrew their labour.
Family doctors belonging to the Medical Practitioners Union, which is part of the Unite union, had intended to offer patients only emergency services today — no planned appointments as usual — after their ballot for industrial action produced a ‘yes’ vote. To be clear: the MPU is a very small organisation. Its president, Ron Singer, can’t give an exact figure for its total membership but says that it has “about 100 active members”.
At the start of last week, Singer told the Press Association that he knew of “some practices that are intending to have emergency services only or will have periods of time (during working hours) to congregate outside with placards”.
If that had happened, MPU members would have been the only doctors striking today, as the British Medical Association — which represents about two-thirds of the UK’s medics — has not balloted for action over pensions, or not this time anyway.
However, Singer has just told me — from a march of strikers from east
London heading towards a rally in central London — that that action has not materialised.
Legal advice received by the MPU last Thursday warned them that GPs would be breaking the law if they downed stethoscopes, as it were, so the action — which would mainly have affected some surgeries in London, especially Tower Hamlets in east London — was called off.
“My members are willing [to strike today] but are not able to taking anything construed as taking industrial action,” he said.
So what happened? “We had legal advice saying that GP members couldn’t strike today because they hadn’t given workplaces a week’s notice,, he added.
But GPs are self-employed, and the workplaces that would have been
affected are their own surgeries. So does that mean that family
doctors in effect failed to notify themselves of the action, as the
“Can self-employed people take industrial action? The answer is yes and no. The legal advice produced a little local difficulty. We will clarify the situation,” said Singer, who plans to ask m’learned friends for further advice on this issue.
Pete Smith, a rep for NUT Swindon, talks about what needs to happen next.
“We’re facing a masssive, systematic assault on gains made by working people over 200 years. If that’s the case, then today can’t just be a protest strike … I think we need to step up our resistance. I think we need to take up the argument in our unions for more co-ordinated strike action.”
This from my political colleague Helene Mullholland, who’s been at No 10:
Downing Street gave an update on the impact of the strike on some public services at the morning briefing with journalists, though a clearer picture of turnout and the impact on services should emerge this afternoon.
The spokesman said a third of civil servants were out on strike. However, just 18 job centres had closed out of 900.
David Cameron was among the parents having to make alternate provisions because of school closures, with his son staying at a friend’s house for the day.
The number of those turning out for work at border controls had been “better than expected”, said the spokesman. Over at Downing Street, just a handful of staff had not turned up for work.
Cameron’s official spokesman said the prime minister would praise public sector workers who ignored the strike call and went in to work.
The spokesman said Cameron regards the pension offer as “fair” to both public sector workers and taxpayers and believes it will deliver pensions which are “amongst the very best available”, with some low-paid workers receiving more than under the current system.
Over at Downing Street, just a handful of staff had not turned up for work. No creche provisions were made for Downing Street staff affected by school closures. last week the prime minister told MPs that parents should be able to take their children to work if “safe” to do so, to minimise disruptions to their day.
Here’s a new storify from my colleague Hannah Waldram:
Jessica Shepherd, the Guardian’s education correspondent, has found out that the school where David Cameron and Michael Gove send their children, St Mary Abbotts primary school in Kensington and Chelsea, is partly closed. Two classes are open and five classes are closed.
A commenter going by the name of RuthArcher (presumably not wife of David) has posted this tale from Leeds over on the politics live blog:
Health workers from a Leeds Hospital in Chapeltown, have just come off their picket line to help doctors and paramedics with a woman who was accidentally run over by a car. They are amazing everyday they help people for little reward, and it is not until you have a crisis that you see how amazing they are.
How many bankers whould help your sick child or elderly mum? We need to get a grip on our priorities.
Many parts of the academic world are feeling the effects of today’s industrial action, according to Jessica Shepherd, our education correspondent:
At least two universities — Sunderland and Strathclyde — have cancelled all classes on Wednesday, a move that will affect thousands of students.
Richmond upon Thames College, Blackburn College, Kingston College and City of Westminster College are closed to students.
Ian Bauckham, head of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, a comprehensive in Kent, told the Guardian he had decided to keep his school partly open despite about 30 of his 85 teaching staff being out on strike. Pupils in the first four years of the school will have no lessons, but those in their last year of GCSEs will have to attend classes. Some A-level classes have been cancelled.
The school has offered to supervise children whose parents cannot find suitable childcare arrangements.
Bauckham said he understood why teachers were upset, but that conversations with parents showed they had mixed sympathy for those who were striking. “I think if the strikes are repeated, it will be damaging … the public will lose patience,” he said.
The author Toby Young, who established the West London Free school, said none of the teachers were on strike and the school was open as normal.
“It’s a great tribute to their commitment to the school and the pupils under their care,” he wrote on Twitter.
Teachers in Swindon — Mary-Ann Harris, Lottie Rowe and Emma Pickles — talk to John Harris at the Swindon rally. It’s the first time they have gone on strike.
Our health correspondent, Denis Campbell, brings news that the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has been talking to the media in an attempt to bolster one of the government’s key arguments: that even after the coalition’s planned changes, many public sector pensions will still be much more generous than private sector equivalents.
He has given two examples.
A healthcare assistant joins the NHS at 30 and retires at 68 on about £18,500. He’s taken a four-year career break and for a while he worked part-time. He will have personally paid about £27,000 into his pension and would have a pension worth around £9,000 a year. If he
wanted a private pension of similar value, he would need to have invested in a fund of nearly a quarter of a million pounds.
And a radiographer works in the NHS from the age of 23 and retires at 68. She was 40 when the new scheme is introduced and had two short career breaks and a period of part-time working. She will have made personal contributions to her pension of about £70,000, which would give her a pension worth around £16,000 a year. To get the same from a private pension, she would have needed to invest nearly half a million pounds.”
The health unions may respond by claiming that Lansley is using
atypical examples. I have asked the Department of Health to clarify
how many NHS staff Lansley believe would still be better off with the
revamped public sector pensions — a few, some, most or all of them?
The immigration hall at Heathrow Terminal 3, writes Rob Booth, is about as quiet as a library:
Of the 44 UK Border Agency desks, 21 are manned and about half of those have no queue at all.
“Normally it is a long queue over here, but today it looks empty,” said Irfan Sakhiani, an Indian arriving from Canada.
“I was expecting much worse that this from what I saw on the BBC,” said another traveller. “The news was saying 12 hours delay.”
Around 20 people queued to have their visas checked while EU nationals had no wait at all. Passengers from Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan had their own fast channel which was running smoothly. It is understood that the UK Border Agency had negotiated with those countries to carry out thorough checks on departure to alleviate potential problems on arrival.
Our video people have just swooped on a rally in Swindon:
What are people talking about below the blog? Here’s a taste:
Sparebulb: All the kids are just playing in my local park … My mother is on strike and she works for a private hospital, but she just booked the day off as it is hard to to do a direct action as they sack you- she is with Unite. I am on strike, but then since I lost my job (private sector) at the begining of the collapse, I am on strike every day… I could go on, but the point is my grass-roots perception is there is a large element of private sector support for our public service workers.
HeedBlerk: Beautiful day here in Gateshead. Just off out to join the march across the Tyne. Loving the day off today and the chance to strike whilst it’s still available to us. Yesterday’s news showed the cuts aren’t working, so the chancellor responds with even deeper cuts. This strike isn’t just about the pensions. To me it’s about highlighting what our priorities are as a nation.
tickctock: I am a teacher. I am not on strike today as I am on maternity leave but I would have been following my union and striking if I hadn’t been.
CleggsPledge: I have been on a picket line this morning and the support from the passing public was massive. While there are always one or two passers by who tell you where you go, the amount of people offering support, especially from the private sector, was outstanding.
Reports of, erm, not much happening at Heathrow – to the delight of our commenter nocommentnc:
Thanks strikers! Just seen my wife off to Chicago from Heathrow. No queue at check-in or security, and the plane is 3/4 empty, so will be nice relaxed flight for her. Best departure ever!
And a great round up of the results in a number of polls from LV09:
• Evening Standard – Do you think Wednesday’s strike by public sector workers is justified? Yes 32% No 68%
• BBC – Do you think Wednesday’s strike by public sector workers is justified?
Yes 61% No 39%
• Guardian – Do you support the 30 November strikes? Yes 79.3% No 20.7%
• Daily Mail – Do you support the public sector strikes today? Yes 90% No 10%
My heroic colleague Peter Walker — who’s on a day-off today — sends this dispatch from south London:
There was a large turnout of pickets outside the major King’s College and
Maudsley hospitals in Camberwell, south London, with around 100 people
handing out badges and leaflets to passers-by by at three entrances.
In keeping with the wider demographic of the action, all but about two of the pickets were women. One woman standing outside the Maudsley, a leading psychiatric facility, who asked not to be named, said:
I’m a mental health community nurse, and with the job I do it’s no small thing to go on strike even for a day. But I really feel we were given no option. Everyone thinks that.”
Four people have been arrested in London, according to the Met. A spokesman has just told us that two were arrested in Hackney on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, while two others were arrested on suspicion of carrying an offensive weapon (one in EC2; one in Marylebone).
East Londonlines is covering the London action including the latest from Dalston. ELL reporters are also feeding into our Twitter stream here.
n0tice, meanwhile, is covering the disruptions in Tyne and Wear.
Unionist politicians have snubbed the public sector strikers by crossing a picket line at Stormont buildings this morning, reports Henry McDonald:
Assembly members from the Democratic Unionist and Ulster Unionist parties entered parliament despite the presence of demonstrators protesting otuside. Hardline Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister also crossed the picket line. But Sinn Fein and the SDLP have instructed their Assembly members not to go into parliament today in solidarity with the strikers.”
Here’s the latest statement from Francis Maude — the “inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible” line crops up again:
I want to thank the majority of dedicated and committed public sector workers who have turned up to work today to deliver essential services.
I can reassure the public that we are doing all that we can to keep essential services open. Our rigorous contingency planning is in place across all sectors to limit the impact of the strike action. Early indications show it is working well and that the majority of key public services remain open.
Today’s strike is inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible, especially while talks are ongoing. Responsibility for any disruption which people may experience today lies squarely with union leaders.
Claims this morning that there are no negotiations going on are simply not true. There were formal discussions with the Civil Service unions only yesterday and there will be formal discussions with the teaching unions tomorrow and health on Friday. In addition, there are frequent informal contacts between the Government and the TUC. All of this underlines how indefensible today’s strike is while these talks at scheme level are moving forward.”
Severin Carell has this from Edinburgh:
The veteran trade union leader Rodney Bickerstaff, former general secretary of Unison and a pivotal figure in the “winter of discontent” in the late 1970s, joined a picket line of nurses, lab workers and cleaners outside Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, where the weather was bright but bitterly cold.
Before he left to join Scotland’s main strike rally outside the Scottish parliament, he accused UK government ministers of being “armchair generals who are sacrificing their troops, men, women and children, over the top to try and fill the gap in the finances, created by their friends in the banks”.
He said the strikers were forced into a one-day strike:
These aren’t brave people; these are people who work day in, day out, they wipe noses and they wipe bottoms; they teach unruly kids, work with dustbins and sewage works.
These are services which civilise our society, yet we’re saying to these people, ‘It’s alright for the bankers, we will give them billions of tax-payers money so their banks won’t fail, but we don’t mind hospitals failing, we don’t mind families breaking apart under the stresses and strains of these economic stringencies. That’s very sad, but we’re looking after ourselves’.”
Some strong words from the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, who is touring picket lines in London today:
The fight to protect public service pensions is the latest battle that working people and their families have had to mount to protect the social and economic advances that have been achieved since 1945.
But now working people are being asked to pay for the economic mess caused by the greedy City elite whose behaviour this spineless government has repeatedly failed to tackle.’
When Francis Maude, the government’s lead pensions’ negotiator, can receive a pension of £43,000-a-year, but nurses, teachers, dinner ladies, fire-fighters and librarians have to pay substantially more, work longer and receive less in real terms when they retire, the mantra of ‘We are all in this together’ has a very hollow and shabby ring.’
This is a government that will snatch at least 16 per cent of income from public sector workers by holding down their pay for four years – but leaves the banking tax at a paltry 0.08 per cent.
The action today has been a brilliant display of courage and concern by public servants who are being demonised by a government that has lost its moral compass.”
We’re getting more and more submissions of strikes reports to our collaborative map – see the spread across the UK here:
You can add details of any disruptions caused by strikes, or strikes action here
We’re also getting some images in of strikers in action – with posters and placards. See this Flickr slideshow of some of our readers’ images so far:
This from Kirsty Scott in Glasgow:
By 9am, small huddles of pickets had gathered outside government and council offices across Glasgow. At the Department of Work and Pensions and passport office, at Northgate, Charlie Liddle struggled to make himself heard above the noise of drums and car horns.
“I think what the chancellor said yesterday just added fuel to the fire if anyone needed reminding of the contempt this government has for public sector workers,” he said.
“The main reason we’re here is that the government wants us to work longer, pay more and get less for our pensions.”
Liddle said only 50 of the 1300 staff had turned up for work and those who had were mostly non-union staff — “the strike has about 99% support which is brilliant”.
Round the corner, a second picket line was getting noisy support from the Coalition of Resistance who had chartered an open-top bus to visit key sites across the city.
Waving banners that read, “Young, angry and organised”, and shouting slogans, the campaigners said they wanted to show their support to everyone who had been on strike today.
“We’ve got people on the bus from many different backgrounds. Students, the public sector, the private sector and the unemployed,” said Gavin Lavery, 22, a maths student at Glasgow University.
“We just want to let people know that we support them.”
Lavery said yesterday’s statement from George Osborne had only strengthened their resolve.
“The question we should be asking today is why is George Osborne not resigning?”
Down at the city chambers in George Square, Billy Stewart, vice chair of Unison in Glasgow and a supervisor in the city council’s management team, said: “I’m out here to protect our pensions. We want things to improve. If we lose this struggle everybody loses.”
An opinion poll commissioned by the BBC suggests that 61% of people support today’s strikes. Our poll — over at CiF — suggests support is running closer to 80%. Why not vote?
Kate Treacy, who teaches English at a state secondary in north London, has blogged here on why she is striking.
Teachers are constantly vilified as an inefficient and ineffective bunch, more interested in coasting to a comfortable retirement than unleashing the potential of the young talent of this country.
But I firmly believe that this campaign is not just about how well-off I will be in my autumn years. It’s about fostering respect for our profession, it’s about ensuring that teachers are valued …
Yes, Mr Cameron, industrial action will be disruptive, but then that’s the point. It’s time you all sat up and took notice of us. We really are that important.”
It’s all quiet on the Gatwick front, too.
The airport has received 57 inbound flights since 0520 carrying around 8,000 passengers. Passengers have been passing through the border zones as normal with no delay. All outbound flights are operating as normal.
Scott Stanley, Gatwick Airport Chief Operating Officer said:
We have just got through our first busy peak with no disruption to the inbound flights and no knock-on effect to the outbound flights. Arriving passengers have been processed safely through passport control as normal with no delays.
We will of course continue to keep a close eye on the situation and respond quickly and robustly should there be a build up of queues in the border zones today.”
Here’s a snapshot of what’s happening on the transport network, courtesy of PA:
• Some major roads in Tyne and Wear are jammed today, with queues on the A167 Tyne Bridge and slow-moving traffic on a number of other routes in the area.
• Eurostar has warned passengers travelling from Paris and Brussels to London to get to their departing station well ahead of time in case of delays, but added: “So far, everything is fine, with no delays or cancellations.”
• Airport services in southern England seem to be unaffected, with flights at Luton airport in Bedfordshire and Stansted airport in Essex operating normally. There were also no delays at Manchester airport.
• The ferry company P&O reports no disruption to its Dover-Calais services.
Insert your own punchlines …
Court proceedings are expected to be disrupted by the strike today, according to union leaders. But a fair few judges, it seems, are backing the action.
Norina O’Hare, who represents the justice and prosecutions sector of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said picket lines were in place at courts across the country, including at the Old Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice, which is also in central London and houses the High Court and Courts of Appeal.
“Union members who work in courts are taking action. We have picket lines at courts across the country, including the Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice.
We expect to have an impact on the running of the courts. We anticipate significant disruption at the Royal Courts of Justice.
We’ve had a lot of support from judges, who are, of course, also public sector workers.”
John Harris, still in Salisbury, asks a teacher why he’s striking
Polly Curtis has been digging away at the ministerial suggestion that unions are striking today despite negotiations behind the scenes being “incessant”. The unions say this is “not true” and the government has issued its final offer. Who is right? Find out over at our Reality Check.
My colleague Hannah Waldram has put together a lovely storify of some of the best strike pics on Twitter.
This from Henry McDonald.
Kirsty McManus, assistant regional director at CBI Northern Ireland, has disputed suggestions that ordinary union members had backed the national strike in the province.
In a hard hitting attack on the unions she said:
It’s really disappointing that this strike has gone ahead when some of the unions
involved haven’t even managed to secure a clear mandate. The government should re-examine the case for strengthening the law to ensure strikes can only go ahead if 40% of the balloted workforce have voted in favour of action, as well as simple majority.”
Not only is this strike a major headache for parents whose children’s schools have closed, it will cost the economy dearly.”
Here’s a video of the Guardian’s John Harris talking to physios — and an occupational therapist — at Salisbury district hospital in Wiltshire.
A bit more from Dan Milmo on the transport end of things:
Given the amount of questions from readers on whether the tubes and trains will be running, it seems only fair to bring the RMT union’s Bob Crow into our coverage.
The vast majority of his members are not affected by the pensions changes — they just aren’t members of those schemes — so the rail, bus and London Underground networks are operating as normal.
However, RMT members who operate the Tyne & Wear Metro belong to the Local Government Pension Scheme, which is one of the schemes at the heart of the public sector dispute.
So the Tyne & Wear Metro is shut this morning and Crow will be attending a rally in Newcastle later.
This morning he said: “We are sending the clearest message to the government that we will defend our pensions to the hilt and the outrageous demand that our members should work longer, pay more and get less has been thrown back in the faces of this government of millionaire public schoolboys” — which should guarantee a Sun bus sitting in front of his house tomorrow morning.
Want to know more about the strike and the disruption it could cause? Here’s a very useful FAQ on the subject. We’ll also try to answer any other questions you may have.
International solidarity, it seems, is not confined to Central America.
National Nurses United, the largest US nursing union, is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with its British counterparts. This from their press release:
[At noon today] at the embassy of the UK in DC … and at five other embassies and consulates around the country, nurses will picket and deliver a letter to stand in solidarity with nurses and public employees in Britain as they strike to protect their pensions.
The nurses will be joined at the picket and rally by other allies to fight for the pensions and retirement security of the embattled workers in Great Britain.”
We’ll have a report on that action a little later.
A ferry update from PA:
Passengers arriving at one of Britain’s main gateways to the Continent faced apparently normal travel conditions today as union officials said they had huge support for their strike.
The Port of Dover in Kent said all services with P&O Ferries to Calais and DFDS Seaways sailings to Dunkirk were “running well and to time” this morning with space available.
There were no queues on roads leading into the port. Freight and car traffic boarding cross-Channel ferries were told not to expect delays on their outbound journeys but could face disruption on their return to Dover.
¡Estamos con ustedes! A little YouTube union solidaridad from Nicaragua …
While we’re on the subject of airports, here’s a report from Rob Booth, our man in a sunny — and, apparently, uncongested — Heathrow.
Predictions of chaos at the Heathrow border control have been proved
seriously wrong, at least at Terminal 3. Passengers from Australia, Thailand, Nigeria and the USA have all been flowing through passport checks faster than usual, according to passengers and airport officials in arrivals.
Piles of bottles water, fruit and even nappies and baby food placed in the immigration hall in anticipation of eight to 10-hour delays have gone untouched.
Steve Morgan, normally in a suit and tie as BAA’s director of capital
projects, had donned a purple fleece and a “here to help” badge to
cover the 4am to noon shift in the arrivals hall.
He didn’t have much to do, and explained that a series of factors had eased the flow. He said he believed that the UK Border Agency had agreed with
authorities in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan that
they would carry out thorough passport checks before boarding allowing
the replacement border staff at Heathrow to carry out faster face and
passport scan checks. BA and Virgin had cancelled some planes and
airlines had responded to calls to run lighter passenger loads.
A rumination or two now from our industrial editor, Dan Milmo.
Heathrow owner BAA reported no significant delays at passport control this morning. Responding to passengers’ concerns on its Twitter feed, the UK’s largest airport said: ‘Immigration is currently running at normal service without delays but check with your airline for delays.’
This is good news for Heathrow because 7am is the airport’s witching hour, when international arrivals reach the peak for the day, which in turn bodes well for the rest of the day already. There is another peak in the evening, but that is largely for departing flights.
No doubt chastened into default pessimism by the snow farrago last year, Heathrow added: ‘There still remains a possibility of delays for arriving passengers later in the day.’
The issue now is whether this good performance so far is down to contingency planning from a UK Border Agency that appeared to be in administrative meltdown in recent weeks — or whether passengers have paid attention to newspapers in recent days and switched their flights to alternative dates. My immediate hunch is the latter. Anyone who has come off an A380 at Heathrow, even on a normal day at border control, knows that the queues can be awful and reports of shorter-than-normal waiting times indicate a drop in passenger numbers.
Meanwhile Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport, is also reporting business as usual but warned of delays later as international arrivals build up.
Scott Stanley, Gatwick Airport Chief Operating Officer said: ‘Whilst passengers have so far not experienced delays at the border zones we do expect delays to occur at some point today as the rate of arriving flights increases.’ EasyJet is Gatwick’s biggest airline.”
My colleague Robert Booth, who has hopped down to Heathrow this morning to see whether the UK is still open for business, is finding few signs of disruption so far. He tweets:
Arrivals reporting fast clearance of immigration, no queues. ‘Fastest ever’ — Sue off Bangkok plane.”
BAA very happy with flow. Talking of 45 second queue only. They are enjoying tail wind, literally. Planes form US arrived hour early at 5am.”
A BAA boss has told Rob that detailed passport checks are being carried out by US, Canada, Australia, NZ and Japan. Guards at Heathrow — where an eight-hour delay had been feared — are doing face checks only.
There’s a nice round up of the situation in South Wales this morning on the website of the radio station Capital South Wales:
The UK-wide day of action will see thousands of teachers, bus drivers, university lecturers and UK Border Agency staff walk out.
• UCU — the union for college and university workers — says there are rallies in Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham, Aberystwyth and Bangor, as around three million public sector workers across the UK are expected to down tools in the biggest industrial action for a generation.
• In Cardiff, almost all schools will be closed, most libraries will shut, and waste collection will be disrupted — with only black bin bags and bio bags being prioritised for collection.
• Cardiff Bus say no services are expected to run as drivers take part in the strikes. It means that insufficient employees will be attending work to allow them to safely run a bus service.
Over on our politics live blog, Andrew Sparrow is looking at the simmering row between the unions and the government over whether or not talks are still going on. He writes:
On the Today programme this morning Dave Prentis, the Unison general secretary, said the talks between government and the unions about public sector pensions were not continuing. Here’s the quote, which I’ve taken from PoliticsHome.
The last time we saw Treasury ministers and the Cabinet Office’s ministers was 2 November – they’ve not asked to see us since then. This idea that negotiations are continuing is just not true.”
But Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, has put out a statement saying Prentis is wrong.
More here …
My colleague Hannah Waldram, who’s looking after our user-generated map of what’s happening where, says that 3,000 people will be affected by the halting of rubbish collections in Newport, South Wales.
What’s going on in Northern Ireland? This rundown from our Ireland correspondent, Henry McDonald:
• All buses and trains including the cross-border rail service have come
to a halt in Northern Ireland this morning as the public sector strike begins in the Province.
• As thousands of workers in the public service strike today all non-emergency operations have also been suspended due to the industrial action.
• Rallies will be held across the north of Ireland with the largest taking place in Belfast city centre later. There will also be demonstrations in Derry, Newry, Omagh, Ballymena, Portadown, Magherafelt and Cookstown.
• Most of the province’s 1,200 schools will also be closed today after the majority of teachers union voted to back the national strike.
• An estimated 200,000 workers are taking part in the strike, with the
Northern Secretary of the Irish Congress, Peter Bunting, describing the
action as “putting down a marker that we will oppose the austerity
cuts that have not worked and will not work. We need a Plan B.”
In case you’ve just joined us, here’s a quick summary of what’s happening today:
• Disruption across UK as more than 2 million public sector workers strike
• Airports, schools, railways and hospitals hit in biggest stoppage in 30 years
• Reform of public sector pensions is at heart of dispute
• Government brands strike “inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible”
In this piece, which comes courtesy of my video colleagues, an NHS physiotherapist explains why she’s taking strike action.
On the same point, one poll suggests that only 12% of people think they will be affected by the strike — and that only 4% of private sector workers claim to know a lot about why the strikes are happening.
This from Political Betting:
Another issue comes from ComRes: 56% agreed that public sector workers “have to take their share of the economic pain which means accepting reductions in their pension provision”. Just 28% disagree and 16% say they don’t know.
On Ed Miliband’s position YouGov found 23% think saying he he should support the action with 33% saying he should oppose them. Amongst Labour supporters 41% think the strikes should be supported with 14% opposing.
It’s obviously still ridiculously early in the day — but not too early for some to wonder whether fears over the strike may have been exaggerated. This tweet from James Chapman, political editor of the Daily Mail:
No queues at all at Heathrow (BBC says ‘smoother than usual’) and less than 2/3 of schools closed. Clever expectations management by Govt.”
Maude goes on:
We expect that passengers may face longer than normal waiting times at airports and ports, however, robust contingency plans are in place. Overnight the borders have been managed without any major problems, and are currently operating normally.”
There will also be an impact on health services and some organisations have had to reschedule elective surgery and outpatients appointments so that urgent cases can be prioritised. But, emergency and critical care services will be operating normally and 999 calls will be responded to as usual.”
Still, it’s not all bad news on the transport and borders front. As the Cabinet Office minister proudly trumpets:
There have already been several seizures this morning, for example 1.5 kg of cocaine seized at Stansted.”
Polly Curtis has just pinged over a press release from the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, who has described the strike as “inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible”. He condemns strikers for taking action while talks are still ongoing, adding “responsibility for any disruption which people may experience today lies squarely with union leaders”.
Here’s a bit more of his statement:
We have listened to the concerns of public sector workers and that is why at the beginning of this month we put an improved offer on the table. The offer ensures that public sector pensions will remain among the very best available while also being fair and affordable to taxpayers.
While discussions are continuing I would urge public sector workers to look at the offer for themselves rather than listening to the rhetoric of their union leaders. These are the sort of pensions that few in the private sector can enjoy.
This morning, I want to reassure the public that we have done everything we can to minimise disruption. Rigorous contingency planning is in place across all sectors to try and limit the impact of the strike action and to ensure that key public services remain open.
However, we now estimate today that around three quarters of schools in England will be closed or partially closed today. Council services such as refuse collection, street cleaning and libraries are also likely to be affected. For information about public services I would urge people to visit http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_200255.”
Hopping over the Irish Sea, this is a snapshot of the huge disruption facing Northern Ireland today:
More than 200,000 workers across the province will take industrial action over pension cuts, with representatives also objecting to wider government spending reductions.
The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance — representing members across the civil service — will alone have more than 45,000 workers on strike and stage 160 pickets.
All of Northern Ireland’s 1,200 schools face disruption to transport and catering services, and, with most of the teaching unions striking, it is likely that a majority will be forced to close their doors.
In the health sector, emergency services are to be maintained and GP services and ambulances will be kept running despite disruption caused by industrial action.
Next stop: Birmingham.
Employees at Birmingham Women’s hospital in Edgbaston were also among the first public sector workers to walk out at midnight, setting up picket lines which will be manned for the next 24 hours.
Unison president Eleanor Smith, who is a theatre nurse at the hospital which employs around 400 union members, said:
This has not been a decision that I’ve taken lightly. I have been a nurse for 30 years and this is the first time I have been compelled to take this action because of the government. The government wants us to work longer, pay more and at the end get less. How fair is that?”
I came into the public sector not for great wages but for a pension. Now this pension which I was relying on is going to be taken away – not totally, but considerably reduced. I get the impression the government doesn’t like the public sector.”
Time for a quick jog around the country to see what’s happened so far — and where. First update comes via PA.
The Mersey Tunnels in Merseyside were closed just after midnight as workers became some of the first public sector employees to strike.
Among those walking-out was Inspector Russ Aitken from Mersey Tunnel police, who is taking industrial action for the first time in 35 years. He told BBC Radio 5 Live:
I feel quite strongly that I need to come out on strike. I feel angry that I’m paying a 50% increase in pension contributions and I feel angry that I’m going to have to work longer and at the end of it get less.”
Asked what he hoped striking would achieve, the local government worker added:
Hopefully the government will change its position. The situation was made by the government and the bankers and the people who are asked to pay the price is public sector workers.”
Severin Carrell, our Scotland correspondent — who will be out and about in Edinburgh today covering the main union march and hitting a few picket lines — says #N30Scot is the hashtag to watch for Scottish updates. We’ve also got Kirsty Scott in Glasgow, so why not follow her here.
While we’re on the subject of education, here’s a list of the strike events and rallies the NUT has planned for the day.
Time for a quick schools update, courtesy of my colleague Polly Curtis. She writes:
All week, the Department for Education has been estimating that around 90% of schools would be closed by today’s strike. So this morning’s announcement that in fact 13% of schools will be open, 13% partially open and only 58% fully closed (16% don’t know) might make the strike seem smaller than anticipated.
Was that the idea? I asked the DfE when they collected the figures — which Nick Gibb has just been speaking about on the Today programme — and they told me it had been over the past two days, but that processing had to happen overnight.
It’s certainly a big job to call around the 150 local authorities plus the academies and free schools — but they couldn’t tell me what the overnight processing had involved.
I asked what the previous 90% estimate was based on and was told that it was an “informed guess” based on early returns. DfE say they are just trying to keep the public informed on the impacts of the strike, and will later inform parliament of its effects.
But conspiracy theorists — and 2m public sector workers — may question whether there’s also a bit of spin involved.
We’ve also pulled together a comprehensive list of who else to follow today for Twitter strike updates. It’s here.
To get the best take on what’s happening around the country today, we’re asking people to let us know about action where they live and work. The datablog — which will be live any minute — is here. Please swing by and let us know what’s going on around you.
You can also get live updates by following our strike team on Twitter.
The government, meanwhile, has told unions that the strike will achieve “nothing” — and issued a fresh warning about the impact of the walkout at airports.
The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said a “significant” number of civil servants had volunteered to cover for striking Border Agency staff, including a “considerable” number from the Ministry of Defence.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said:
There are going to be queues but we have proper contingency plans in place and we have been training people to do what we can to mitigate the impact. The strike action will achieve nothing – it would be far better to continue with the talks.”
The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, will tell a rally in Birmingham that the government has scrapped a bankers’ bonus tax and replaced it with a “teachers’, nurses’ and lollipop ladies’ tax”.
He will say that no one takes industrial action lightly or wants to inconvenience the public, adding:
When unfairness is piled on injustice you are right to take a stand. Ministers keep saying that all they want is to secure the long-term affordability of public service pensions. The brutal truth is simply this – that the living standards of millions of low and medium-paid public service workers are being hammered in the name of reducing the deficit.
The cuts are beginning to scythe through our public services, more and more jobs are under threat, and as the pay freeze bites – while inflation roars ahead – real wage cuts are making it harder than ever to make ends meet.
We found out yesterday that the government is to step up the attacks on public sector staff with a continuing pay cap and pay variation at a local level – and I don’t think they mean better.
This is on top of an increase in the state pension age for anyone under 40 – a toxic triple that will do nothing to get the economy moving again, but will simply hit consumer confidence.”
Good morning and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling coverage of the largest strike for three decades, as schools, hospitals, courts, the transport network and the government brace themselves for a walkout involving up to two million workers.
We’ll have news from our reporters around Britain as the country prepares for the biggest day of industrial unrest since the 1979 Winter of Discontent.
Nurses, paramedics, cleaners, porters and receptionists at Birmingham Women’s Hospital are among those who walked out at midnight in the row over pensions.
Picket lines are being mounted outside thousands of schools, hospitals, jobcentres, courts and other buildings, while more than 1,000 rallies and other demonstrations will be held across the UK.
Weather forecasting staff at the Met Office, workers at the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, catering employees in the Commons and museum curators are among those due to join the strike, while more than 1,000 rallies and demonstrations will be held in towns and cities across the UK.
Queues are expected to build up at airports including Heathrow, no ferries will run to or from Shetland, the metro in Newcastle will not run, and the Mersey tunnels will close, disrupting the 80,000 motorists who drive through every day.
Union leaders will travel to towns and cities across the country in a show of support for the strikers, many of whom will be going on strike for the first time.
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