Wales

Strike: Services hit across Wales as thousands strike

Rallies have been held around Wales as about 170,000 workers joined a strike as part of UK-wide industrial action over pension changes.

Hundreds of striking staff protested in town and city centres including Cardiff, Wrexham and Aberystwyth.

More than 90% of pupils across Wales missed classes as part of the public service disruption.

The Prime Minister said the pension offer to workers was "very fair" and called the action a damp squib.

Waste collection, libraries and other services have been affected by the disruption, while non-urgent hospital operations were rescheduled.

All Cardiff Bus services are cancelled.

Pickets are out around Wales, included the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea, Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor and Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil.

Some staff ignored the picket at the DVLA, although union officials said they were a fraction of the normal number of people working.

Up to 5,000 people joined a protest in the centre of Cardiff, according to police estimates.

There were 200 strikers, from several unions, who protested in Bangor city centre, and similar numbers in Merthyr Tydfil.

Staff from the Countryside Council for Wales were among the protesters in Bangor and they said their offices had been severely disrupted.

The number of schools fully closed in Wales were 1,526, or 86%. The total number affected, which included 66 which partially opened, was 1,592, or 90%. This figure could be higher because not all councils declared their final position.

All schools closed in Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf.

The NUT said the decision to take strike action was not made lightly.

Owen Hathway of NUT Wales said: "In the end the cuts to pensions are so huge, and so damaging, they will have a detrimental impact on education services in future."

But business leaders expressed concern that the strike could damage the economy at a time when it was in a fragile state.

"I think the members and the wider private sector have no appetite for continued and prolonged strikes that would affect the economy going forward," said Robert Lloyd Griffiths, director of Institute of Directors Wales.

"We have an appreciation for their position in the private sector - we have gone through similar difficulties - but there's no appetite for a continuation of it.

"The economy is in a fragile position and anything that potentially knocks it off course is unhelpful."

Council services including libraries, refuse collections, leisure centres, museums and car parking were all affected.

In some areas, councils made local agreements with unions to provide essential services such as home and respite care.

Blaenau Gwent council was one such area advising it was operating an emergency and "life and limb" service only, as it estimated it would have fewer than 2% of 4,000 staff in work.

Health boards across Wales cancelled hospital appointments and most planned operations, although emergency and essential care such as chemotherapy and dialysis appointments will go ahead.

In most areas, routine appointments and non-urgent elective surgery will be re-scheduled.

BBC Wales health correspondent Hywel Griffith said some hospitals had planned around the strike, by not allocating appointments for 30 November in advance. He said as a one-off action it was unlikely to have an impact on waiting lists.

But 10,500 hospital appointments and 485 operations across Wales were cancelled.

Emergency and essential healthcare were delivered due to agreements struck with unions.

As well as urgent surgery, cancer care and dialysis treatment was being provided as usual.

  • In the ABM Health Board area covering Swansea and Bridgend, 3,000 outpatient appointments and 75 operations were postponed.
  • In west Wales, Hywel Dda Health Board postponed 905 appointments and 92 operations postponed.
  • In the Cwm Taf area (Merthyr, Pontypridd) 1,100 appointments and 80 operations postponed.
  • Cardiff and Vale University Health Board postponed 2,000 outpatient appointments and at least 100 planned operations.
  • In Powys, cancellations were avoided by planning around the strike.

Jan Williams, chief executive of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, apologised to patients and said it was unclear how many staff had taken part.

"The health board has worked closely with trade unions to make sure life and limb services are in place during today's national day of industrial action," she said.

"I am pleased to say those arrangements appear to have worked and those key services are running as planned."

Mike Cassidy, deputy chief executive at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: "With the support of our trade union representatives, we have been able to maintain an emergency response to every 999 call we have received across Wales today."

Waste and recycling collections in some counties were cancelled rather than postponed until the following day.

Denbighshire council advised residents that green wheelie bins due to be emptied on Wednesday would not be collected for another two weeks.

Libraries and leisure centres were also disrupted, while some councils postponed burials and cremations.

In Rhondda Cynon Taf all libraries, leisure centres and day centres closed.

But in Monmouthshire, the council kept open its main Shire Hall offices, as well as its leisure centres, and some museums and libraries.

Cardiff Bus services were cancelled after the company was told workers from two unions would be on strike.

"We understand that other bus companies, and the train companies, will be operating as normal so some alternative services will be available but these may be very crowded," said a spokesman.

Motorists in the city faced long delays during the morning rush-hour because the Butetown Tunnel in Cardiff Bay was closed first thing on Wednesday.

Cardiff council said the tunnel had to be monitored in case of breakdowns or accidents but strike action meant this was not possible.

Image caption Staff at Coleg Morgannwg in Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf, were on the picket line early

David Rosser, of CBI Wales - who is being seconded to the Welsh government in the business department in January - said he thought it was a "disgrace" that the council had allowed the tunnel to be closed.

He said much of Cardiff had been gridlocked and the biggest problem for the city was the "chaos" from the tunnel closure rather the strike.

Public sector strikes also disrupted work in the Welsh Assembly, forcing one of its two weekly plenary sessions to be cancelled.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said their AMs and staff were turning up for work as usual but Labour and Plaid Cymru said they would not cross picket lines.

The Senedd was closed to the public, and business in the Siambr was brought forward or postponed until next week.

Across the UK, two million public sector workers were expected to strike.

The cabinet office estimated only a third of civil servants were taking part in the action.

The UK government wants to bring in new career-average pension schemes for public sector workers, with revised proposals put forward earlier this month.

At Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said he thought the government had made a "very reasonable, very fair offer to public sector workers".

"I don't want to see any strikes, I don't want to see schools closed, I don't want to see problems at our borders, but this government has to make responsible decisions," he said.

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan told BBC Wales she was "quite angry with union bosses" and said the action had disrupted many people's lives across Wales.

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