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County council staff in walk out over pay
THERE was no burning braziers or donkey jackets in Kendal today but strikers were out in t-shirts and shorts in the shadow of County Hall.
Around a dozen union members from Unison and the GMB were at Cumbria County Council's most prominent public building in the town to observe the nationwide walkout which will last until midnight.
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It was a scene repeated at some council buildings across Cumbria in Barrow, Carlisle, Penrith and along the west coast.
However, earlier today there was no visible union display at either SLDC's South Lakeland House in Kendal or its Canal Head depot.
Today's strike is in protest at the deadlock between the unions' National Joint Council and the government which is suggesting a 1 per cent pay increase for local government employees.
Fed-up union members, who say they have not had a pay increase in three years, want that increased to nearer four per cent to take into account inflation and the increased cost of living.
Their claim is that many members - with or without the 1 per cent pay deal - are nearly 20 per cent worse off than they were pre-Coalition in 2010.
Union representatives spoke of 'over-worked, low-paid, stressed' council staff working in essential roles like caring for the elderly or children, depending on foodbanks or debt counselling services.
Jenny Martin, Unison regional organiser stood shoulder-to-shoulder with council employees outside County Hall in Kendal.
She told how staff had been required to endure cuts, redundancies and endless efficiency drives while still trying to maintain vital services needed by the public.
"One of the main points we want to get across is that the government are saying council workers are well paid compared to public sector employees, but it shouldn't be a race to the bottom," said Ms Martin.
Her hope is that the walk-out will lead to the introduction of the Living Wage at the county council.
"The lowest paid workers are only just above the national minimum wage and if they get more pay then the better off the economy is in general," she said.
"Our fight is not with the council but with the government as they are not adequately resourcing local councils.
"What we have got left is staff doing more for less money and no prospect of that pay increasing. People in the council work for the love of the job in roles like children's services, care services and caring for the most vulnerable people in our society.
"School support staff are some of our lowest paid members and yet parents happily leave their children in their care every day and it isn't recognised in the pay they receive."
Maddy Wilkinson, a GMB Conveynor at Cumbria County Council, was with staff from the county council's highways teams who were taking part in the protest.
She explained that her union had allowed its members working in 'life and limb' roles not to observe the walkout to help maintain vital services during the day of action.
She said: "I'm out to support local government workers, the NHS and teachers across the country who, for the last three years, haven't had a pay rise and are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their gas and electricity bills."
Ms Wilkinson said: "We are still paying for the mistakes of the banking industry."
Asked why the public should have any sympathy when staff in the private sector have also struggled, Ms Wilkinson replied: "The public have a tendency to think that working for a council is all high salaries and fantastic pensions when it is not.
"If the bins were not emptied, the care staff did not go to work, the highways teams didn't do their work, we would really have problems.
"There are social workers today - dealing with child protection issues in places, as far away as Oxfordshire, taking care of children that they have a responsibility too, driving their own vehicles and being paid very little in mileage."