VIDEO: Public sector workers across Stoke-on-Trent hold strike
AROUND 850 public sector workers across the city downed tools to join a Budget Day strike in protest at cuts to pay and conditions.
The strike, timed to coincide with yesterday's budget announcement of a further £2.5 billion spending cuts across most Government departments, marks the start of a three-month programme of action called by the Public and Commercial Services Union.
Striker Jane Fowler, aged 45, of Leek, who works at Hanley Job Centre, said: "I've worked for the department for 26-years and over the past few years we have received what amounts to a massive pay cut.
"It is getting more difficult to cope and it is not us who caused the problem, so I don't think we should have to suffer.
"We have lost a lot of staff, but demand is higher and we suffer more problems. We get abused on a regular basis, but you can understand people's frustration.
"My husband has just been made redundant as well, so we are making cut backs at home where we can, and holidays are a thing of the past, but that's the situation most of us are in."
Joanne Edwards, aged 41, of Tunstall, who works for the Department of Work and Pensions, said: "The Government can't keep doing what it is are doing to people who provide services to the public who desperately need them.
"It is harder and harder for people to access our services. There's very little face time anymore.
"I'm a single parent, I can't afford to lose a day's pay to go on strike, but I am here because I am losing so much every month from my pay because of having to contribute more to my pension.
"I rely on working tax credits to make a living wage, because I don't take home enough money to live on."
Dave Machin, aged 53, of Burslem, who works for the DWP, said: "I've worked for the department for 12-years and in that time conditions have deteriorated.
"It just seems that all the changes and all the cuts being introduced by the Government make it harder for us to serve the public."
Dozens of union members joined other anti-cuts campaigners at a rally outside Hanley Benefit Centre, in Albion Square, Hanley.
Picket lines were also set up outside job centres in Hanley, Newcastle and Kidsgrove, and at the Blackburn House tax office, in Hanley.
Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court was also closed due to the industrial action.
The PCS is angry about the Government's refusal to negotiate over a series of public service cuts, including to terms and conditions and pensions.
The union says a pay freeze has seen public sector wages fall well below equivalent posts in the private sector.
The union has called for a minimum pay rise of five per cent, or £1,200, for all civil servants this year, and for no cuts to terms and conditions, and no increase in pension contributions.
PCS North Staffordshire branch secretary Peter Rofe – who led the picket outside the Department of Working pensions in Albion Square, Hanley, – said around 85 per cent of the city's estimated 1,000 union members joined the strike.
Mr Rofe added: "Of course we regret any disruption to public services but we feel we were left with no choice.
"We have written to the Government several times and they refuse to respond to us. The public sector work very hard but are taking a real hit. The average wage of a DWP worker for example is £18,000.
"I think people realise the real battle is with the Government, not the PCS, because the end result will be a lower quality of service that we are able to offer.
"I'm not sure people realise the extent of the changes the Government want to make to public sector services."