Passport Office workers in Durham are on strike today over staff shortages.
The Public and Commercial Services union voted for the strike after extra staff were drafted in to deal with a 30,000 backlog in applications.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The staffing crisis in the Passport Office has been obvious for everyone to see and it shouldn’t have taken a committee of MPs to force the chief executive to meet us to discuss it.
“We are still a long way off getting a commitment from the agency that it will work with us to put the proper resources in place to ensure these backlogs do not reoccur year after year.”
HM Passport Office Chief Executive Paul Pugh said the 775,000 applications received in June had been the highest ever recorded in a single month and denied claims the agency was in disarray.
Puplic services ground to a halt across Wearside yesterday as workers walked out in support of the strike. Schools, libraries, leisure centres, museums and other public buildings were shut.
Pickets were in place outside Sunderland Civic Centre.
John Kelly, secretary of Unite’s Sunderland City Council Branch, said: “Unite is proud to be taking part in strike action alongside our fellow trade unions.
“This is a fight for better public services, and for fair pay for those who work hard to deliver those services.
“Council workers have been targeted to bear the brunt of the austerity measures that have been imposed by millionaire cabinet ministers since 2010. Unite fully understand that Labour-run councils like Sunderland City Council are the scapegoats when implementing this Coalition Government’s austerity measures.
“Local government workers and the communities they deliver services to believe that local government workers should have fair pay, not poverty pay.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 11 July 2014
SOUTH TYNESIDE –
There were pickets outside South Shields Town Hall, the town’s Middlefields refuse depot and at the JobCentre in Chapter Row, and more than half of schools in the borough closed for the day.
All the borough’s libraries were also shut, and all council refuse collections were cancelled, and the crematorium on John Reid Road, South Shields, closed for the day.
Despite the widespread disruption, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, believes the public remain generally supportive of the action – and the reasons behind it.
Horn-beeping motorists expressed support for the dozen or so trade unionists gathered outside the town’s hall’s Beach Road entrance yesterday and, also on hand to show his support was Labour councillor Ernest Gibson, Mayor of South Tyneside last year.
There were pickets from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Harton Technology College in South Shields.
The school was closed to pupils, although members of other teaching unions and non-union staff did go into work.
COUNTY DURHAM –
Striking workers picketed outside council offices, job centres, tax offices and courts across County Durham and North Yorkshire.
Workers from government agencies including the Student Loans Company in Darlington, the Passport Office in Durham City and the HM Revenue & Customs offices in Thornaby took part in the industrial action.
In County Durham, more than 130 schools closed for the day, although only a handful of Darlington’s schools shut.
Twenty North Yorkshire schools closed and a further 50 suffered disruption.
On Teesside about 35 schools in Stockton were closed or partially-closed.
A survey commission by Unite on the eve of the strike found that 50 per cent of people in the North of England agreed that the local government workers’ call for an £1 per-hour pay rise was justified.
“The poll confirms that people across the North support workers who are fighting to end poverty pay in our local councils,” said Mike Routledge, Unite local government officer for the North-East.
Source – Northern Echo, 10 July 2014
Picket lines could be seen around the town with the most prominent outside of the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool.
Other’s took place outside Hartlepool Borough Council-run buildings in Church Street, and also in Wesley Square, outside the Jobcentre.
Councillor Stephen Thomas, Labour representative for the De Bruce ward, was also on the picket line to offer his support.
Coun Thomas, who works for Health Watch Hartlepool but took the day off to take part in the action, said: “I’m here to basically show my support to the strikers because I think that the way the Government is treating government sector workers is absolutely appalling.
“The one per cent pay rise they’ve had in the last four years equates to a 14 per cent cut in real terms.”
Teachers were also included in the strike with a number of Hartlepool schools closed for the day.
The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) also joined forces in the strike action, with crews from Cleveland Fire Brigade’s Stranton Fire Station forming a protest.
Brian Gibson, the FBU chairman for Cleveland, said: “The action we took part in is particularly important because all the unions have got together to show our strength of feeling at getting one per cent pay rises. The FBU’s argument is also with the Government over pensions.”
He added: “We’ve had great public support, all we’ve had is support.
“We’re so pleased.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 11 July 2014
Outside Middlesbrough Town Hall this morning, many office workers arriving for work crossed the picket lines.
Dawn Nicholson, Unison Area Organiser said: “It’s going well.
“Some people are crossing the picket lines but a lot of them are employed by Mouchel.
“Mouchel workers haven’t been balloted and can’t strike but many have signed our petition.”
However as one woman made her way into work she answered calls for her to strike saying: “People are still need to make a living.”
GMB union, shop steward, Brian Foulger, said: “We’re quite surprised by how many people, even management, have gone out on strike.
“Since 2010, local government have been putting money away for a rainy day. Well, it’s pouring down.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 10 July 2014