Liverpool passport office staff strike over pensions
Almost all staff at the passport office in Liverpool have taken part in a strike over changes to their pensions.
Out of a total of 550 staff, 537 were not in work, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said.
At the Criminal Records Bureau, 485 out of 500 were on strike and at the Ministry of Defence 485 out of 500 were understood to be taking action.
However, the Home Office has disputed the PCS' figures. A spokesman said 190 passport office staff were on strike.
He said 472 people were on strike at the Criminal Records Bureau, out of 637 members of staff.
Nearly 400 schools and colleges were closed on Merseyside while a further 200 were partially closed as members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the University and College Union (UCU) have been on strike.
The unions say the proposals would mean more work and contributions for a reduced pension but the government has said its plans are "fair to taxpayers" while other unions are continuing with negotiations.
Across Merseyside, the numbers the numbers of schools affected were:
- In Liverpool, 142 schools closed or partially-shut
- In Knowsley, 57 out of 68 schools affected
- In Sefton, 76 out of 106 schools affected
- In St Helens, 52 schools closed
- In Wirral, 96 out of 128 schools affected
- In Cheshire West, 67 out of 159 schools affected
- In Warrington, 70 out of 89 schools closed
- In Halton, 25 out of 67 schools closed
PCS has estimated a total of 20,000 members work on Merseyside and claimed a turnout of about 95%.
The Home Office said passport offices remained open.
"Those customers with emergency or compassionate travel needs will be able to get a passport," an Identity and Passport Service spokesman earlier confirmed.
Staff at HMP Liverpool, in Walton, staged protests in their lunch breaks in support of other public sector workers and over fears for their own pensions. The law forbids them from striking.
Job centres were also hit by the strike action.
Thousands of protesters marched from William Brown Street to the city's Chinatown for a rally, carrying placards, flags and leaflets bearing slogans such as "Fight the Cuts!" and "Unity is Strength".
Strikers blew whistles and chanted: "No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts."
The procession was flanked by officers from Merseyside Police and a force helicopter hovered overhead.
'Children will suffer'
One member of staff from Liverpool's passport office, in Old Hall Street, said: "I don't want to strike but I can't afford not to.
"If we don't make a stand now it is not just us, our children will suffer as well."
Alec McFadden, president of Merseyside TUC, said: "The response from the public has been great. People on buses have been waving, people in cars beeping their horns.
"Workers are coming out of their buildings applauding us.
"Even the police have been saying, 'thank God somebody is doing something, we are not allowed to go on strike'."
Bev Dickson, a mother-of-two, who runs Warrington-based financial recruitment consultancy Dickson O'Brien Associates, was one of the thousands of parents who had to take time off work or make alternative childcare arrangements.
She said: "I've had to rearrange my work schedule and have worked from home this morning, but have managed to get a childminder for the afternoon.
"While I sympathise with the teachers wholeheartedly, working in recruitment I've seen a lot of examples of people in the private sector having their pay and benefits hit - and unfortunately it's a sign of the time.
"I've seen in my clients an acceptance of the economic situation and an understanding that people have to knuckle down and take the hit."
The Ministry of Justice said Liverpool Crown Court had put contingency plans in place when it became clear the strikes would go ahead.
The PCS said only 10 out of 96 members of staff were in work.
Of the 22 court rooms in the complex, only two were sitting, the PCS said. They heard a sentencing and bail applications.