SCORES of Derbyshire public sector workers are staging a mass walkout in the biggest strike for a generation.
The county is facing huge disruption as hundreds of thousands of staff – many from schools, hospitals and councils across the area – stopped work and took to picket lines.
The 24-hour national protest – triggered by Government plans to overhaul public sector pensions – will cost Derbyshire’s economy an estimated £6.8m.
Nationally about two million employees from 30 unions are joining the controversial walkout – the biggest since the late-1970s.
As the Derbyshire Times went to press, hordes of placard-waving protesters took to the streets of Chesterfield town centre in a rally organised by Chesterfield and District TUC.
More than 300 schools are shut – sparking a childcare nightmare for hundreds of desperate parents – while Chesterfield Royal Hospital has postponed most non-urgent operations.
Some libraries and bin collections are disrupted and leisure services and council offices are closed for the day.
More than a dozen workers were on the picket line outside NE Derbyshire District Council on Saltergate and similar scenes are being repeated around the county.
Lisa Derbyshire, secretary for the NE Derbyshire branch of public sector union Unison, said: “People are being very supportive although we’ve had a few abusive comments.
“We just hope that the Government listens to us and if they don’t we’ll have to plan further action – we won’t give up without a fight.”
John Holmes, secretary of the Derbyshire branch of the National Union of Teachers, claimed the Government’s pension plans were “arbitrary and unwanted”.
“Teachers will not accept these changes lying down,” he added.
Many public sector workers fear they will end up paying more into their pensions and retiring later if the Government’s plans go ahead.
But ministers say everyone will have to pay more contributions and work longer because the country is in more debt and society is getting older.
Derbyshire chamber of commerce said the walkout came at the wrong time in the fragile economic recovery.
George Cowcher, chief executive, said: “For some workers to walk out over modest changes to a generous pension scheme while others are busting a gut to get the economy moving is a big mistake.”
For more coverage, see this week’s Derbyshire Times.