'We can't afford to live on our wages'
HUNDREDS of council workers formed picket lines across South Devon yesterday to add their voices to the national pay dispute.
Teaching assistants — among others out on strike — told how they cannot afford to live on their wages and 'had to take a stand for a decent wage'.
Eight schools in the area closed and others had to recruit senior members of staff to take over responsibilities of classroom assistants, who joined the ranks of disgruntled workers.
Torquay and Totnes libraries closed in support of the two-day Unison strike and Dartmouth's lower ferry was also out of action.
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At Torquay Town Hall, almost 200 Unison members waved placards — and drivers of passing cars honked their horns in support of the industrial action.
At Teignbridge Council's Forde House offices, workers gathered to protest about the below-inflation Government pay rise of 2.45 per cent.
At Newton Abbot's Knowles Hill School and Coombeshead College, classroom assistants, IT and science technicians said they wanted a pay rise in line with other public sector workers.
Many full-time teaching assistants said they worked two jobs just to pay the bills and were struggling to cope.
Collette Palmer, a student support assistant at Knowles Hill School, said: “The pay rise does not cover the milk bill let alone the cost of living.”
As a result of strike action, the school library was closed.
Dan Chudleigh, another classroom assistant, said: “Many of us have two jobs just to survive. I clean part-time and another colleague works in a bar in the evenings.”
Yesterday, senior staff at Coombeshead College had to take on the job of classroom assistants and chaperone hundreds of pupils on school trips across Devon.
Teignbridge Unison union representative Christine Bolton said: “A lot of people are on full strike action and some people are doing core hours.
“There are a lot of members out on strike down at Teignbridge refuse and services today, but non-Unison members are not out on strike so there are still some vehicles going out to do collections.”
Forde House was left without reception staff until 10am yesterday as was Teignmouth tourist information centre.
Countryside ranger Simon Cunningham works at Decoy Country Park.
He said: “Everyone assumes that because we have a good job we will do it for nothing. A lot of graduates do volunteer work and the wages for those who are paid are very low.”
At South Hams Council, there was no picket line so Unison members travelled to Teignbridge and Torbay.
South Hams Council ICT project manager Andy Mollay said: “We have to take a stance against the difference between inflation versus the rates of pay.
“This could be the start of quite a lot of unrest.”
Bidwell Brook special school in Dartington closed because of the industrial action.
Unison representative Helen Boon is one of the 22 union members at the school who took part in the strike.
She said: “For 10 years we have been paid below inflation and we are fed up with it. We cannot afford to live on rubbish wages.”
There were six at a time manning the picket line set up near the mini roundabout opposite Dartington's Cider Press Centre.
Nationally, more than 600,000 Unison workers protested.
The unions' pay claim was for six per cent or 50p an hour, whichever was the greater.
Sheridan Provins is a learning support assistant at a special needs school during the week and a social services special needs assistant on Saturdays.
She joined protesters outside Torquay Town Hall.
She said: “It is about time workers in Torbay were paid a decent wage. Torbay learning support workers are some of the lowest in the area.
“I don't believe in striking but feel so strongly that I am here to stand up for a decent wage.”
Non-Unison member Leya Ostell, is a student social worker on a placement with Torbay Children's Services.
She said: “I am here supporting those people who work in local services.
“The Government don't value local services and they don't value the workers.”
Cllr Ray Frost, Teignbridge spokesman for human resources, said strike action would 'inevitably have some consequences' on services.
But he said: “Early indications show that the majority of key frontline services, such as refuse collections, will be covered.”
Torbay householders were being asked to put out refuse bins as normal despite the national industrial action by local authority employees.
A council spokesman said: “Collections are going ahead as normal but it will cause problems if people do not put bins out on the usual collection days.”
He said the civic amenity site at Yalberton, Paignton, is open.