THE Government was today hit by the biggest strike over pay since it came to power as more than a million public sector workers round the country went on strike in bitter disputes over pay, pensions, jobs and spending cuts.
Home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners will be joined by teachers, firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.
Picket lines were mounted outside courts, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.
In South Tyneside, about half of the borough schools were closed, and South Tyneside Council warned of severe disruption to other services.
A statement on its website said: “It is expected that there will be widespread disruption to South Tyneside Council services as a result of the industrial action that has been co-ordinated for this Thursday, 10 July.”
Most civic buildings are closed to the public, but those operated solely by South Tyneside Homes or BT South Tyneside are open as usual.
The council’s contact centre at South Shields Town Hall is closed to the public, but inquiries can still be made on 427 7000.
All bin collections due today are cancelled. This includes blue recycling bins, green bins and household bins.
These bins will be emptied on their next due collection date, which will be Thursday, July 24. There will be no collections made in the interim period.
Residents are asked to place any excess waste in black waste sacks on July 24, and they will be collected. There will be limit of three bags per property.
Normal collection services will resume tomorrow. As there will be no catch up arrangements, residents are encouraged to make use of the recycling facilities across the borough and the Recycling Village at Middlefields.
For vital services, such as children’s or adult social care and for a response to an emergency situation, there will be continual cover in line with the council’s usual business continuity procedures.
South Tyneside Council has agreed with the trade unions that some staff can continue to provide essential services to vulnerable members of the community.
The TUC claims public sector workers are, on average, more than £2,000 worse off under the Government, while 500,000 council employees earn less than the living wage.
Unison said ending the cap on public sector pay would create thousands of jobs and pump millions of pounds into the economy.
Every one per cent increase in public sector pay would generate between £710m and £820m for the Government in increased income tax and National Insurance contributions, as well as reduced spending on benefits and welfare, said the union.
Unison staged an early morning demonstration outside Parliament, one of hundreds of events across the country to mark the 24-hour walkout.
The strike sparked another pledge by the Prime Minister to change employment laws so a certain number of people have to take part in a ballot, otherwise industrial action would be illegal.
Business leaders and leading Conservatives have been pressing for a new law, setting out a 50 per cent threshold in ballots.
David Cameron insisted in the Commons that the “time had come” to legislate for setting thresholds and pledged to include this in the Conservative manifesto ahead of next year’s general election.
During his weekly questions in the Commons, he said: “I don’t think these strikes are right... I think people should turn up for work.
“I think the time has come for looking at setting thresholds in strike ballots... The (NUT) strike ballot took place in 2012, based on a 27 per cent turnout.
“How can it possibly be right for our children’s education to be disrupted by trade unions acting in that way? It is time to legislate and it will be in the Conservative manifesto.”
Unions complain of “double standards”, arguing that no MPs would have been elected if similar restrictions were placed in general elections.
Fire chiefs urged people to take extra care because of today’s 10am to 7pm walkout by members of the Fire Brigades Union in Wales and England - the 15th round of industrial action in a long-running row over pensions and retirement age.