One-man strike at Hemel Hempstead Job Centre is part of action in Dacorum

Prison officers belonging to POA and support staff from union PCS on strike at the Mount Prison in Bovingdon.
Prison officers belonging to POA and support staff from union PCS on strike at the Mount Prison in Bovingdon.

A SINGLE picketer stood at the back of a job centre to protest against changes to public sector pensions this morning (Thursday).

He was taking part in a one-day nationwide public sector strike by groups including the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) civil servants’ union and Unite health workers’ union.

Jim Robertson, secretary of the Herts branch of the PCS.

Jim Robertson, secretary of the Herts branch of the PCS.

Jim Robertson, Herts branch secretary for PCS, chose his position at the Hemel Hempstead venue so staff could see him as they parked their cars at the start of the working day.

Mr Robertson, who works in the Watford benefits office, said it was “disappointing” that none of the Hemel Hempstead job centre staff were striking.

“Not everybody comes out on strike. It depends on the make-up of the workforce. Smaller offices are more difficult to organise,” he said.

“We do try to persuade people to strike. The reasons people give for not doing it is they cannot afford to. Our argument is you can’t afford not to go on strike as you are going to lose your pension year-on-year.”

He said people may be pressurised not to strike by their employer, but added that he’s been doing it on-and-off since 1976 and has never faced reprisals.

Elsewhere staff at the Mount Prison in Bovingdon manned picket lines in protest of government changes.

Prison officers belonging to the union POA were protesting outside the prison specifically in opposition to plans changing the retirement age for officers to 68.

Local POA chair Martin Arris said: “It has previously been recognised by Hutton in his original report, and by local MPs including Mike Penning, that staff in front line jobs should retire at the age of 60.

“If you try to picture an 68-year-old trying to restrain a 21-year-old prisoner you can understand why we believe it is unsafe.

“It’s unsafe for staff, prisoners and visitors and that’s why we’re out here today.”

Almost 100 prison officers were joined on the line by admin and support staff from the prison, including instructors, who belong to PCS.

National Offender Management Service (NOMS) eastern area branch secretary for the union Jagtar Singh Dhindsa said: “We’re here because the government is refusing to negotiate over the changes to our pensions.

“They want us to pay more, work longer and get less back in return. We signed our contracts when we first started and now they want to rip those up without a discussion.”

It is the third one-day strike by public sector workers in less than 12 months, following one in November last year

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said: “The dedicated majority of public sector workers are working normally today.

“Rigorous contingency plans are ensuring that nearly all key public services remain open as usual.

“We can now confirm that far fewer civil servants are on strike than in November – with around 100,000 taking part – down from 146,000 last year. This is dramatically lower than union claims.

“Nevertheless it is very disappointing that a handful of unions insist on carrying on with futile strike action which will benefit no one. We would urge these union leaders to reconsider their position. Pension talks will not be reopened and nothing further will be achieved through strike action.

“In March we set out our final proposed agreements on pension reform following more than a year of intensive discussions with trades unions. Our reforms ensure that public sector pensions will remain among the very best available and that they can be sustained for the future.

“Public sector workers are being asked to work a bit longer and pay a bit more, but they will continue to get a guaranteed pension which is index-linked and inflation-proofed. Most staff on low and middle incomes will receive a pension at retirement as good as what they expect today, and for many it will be even better.”