TENS of thousands of teachers, civil servants, health and local government workers in Hampshire have today walked out in the largest day of industrial unrest since the 1979 Winter of Discontent.
Around two thirds of schools in Hampshire, including nearly all in Southampton, are closed causing major childcare headaches for parents.
Angry public sector workers are manning dozens of picket lines outside council buildings, hospitals, job centres, tax offices and prisons in the dispute over Government plans to make them pay higher pension contributions.
The strikes come after the Government yesterday provoked a fresh clash with unions by announcing plans to cap public sector pay rises to one per cent when a current wage freeze ends.
The scale of the industrial action will cost the Hampshire economy about £10m, according to accountants James Cowper.
City centre roads will be closed at lunchtime, with up to 10,000 union members and supporters expected to march through Southampton for a rally in Guildhall Square, one of the largest protest gatherings in the south. Hundreds will attend a rally in Winchester.
The Trades Union Congress day of action will involve 21 unions. They say that the Government’s planned pension reforms will force workers to pay more and work longer for less.
Unison said that 15,000 of its members in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight would be on strike, with regional secretary Phil Wood saying that there has been “a tide of anger”.
The walkouts were bringing chaos to council services where about one in four staff will not show up for work.
Hospitals said that some day surgery and routine appointments had been postponed but they were otherwise running as normal. Job centres were running with skeleton staffing.
Long delays were expected for people ringing into Government and council call centres.
Southampton Airport and the container port said that there would be little disruption from the walkouts by immigration officials, other UK Border Agency staff and port health workers. Unions have warned that untrained staff would be doing passport and security checks.
Cover was also being brought in for striking emergency services staff.
The Government insists that reform of public sector pensions, which includes raising the retirement age to 67 by 2026, is needed to make them more affordable.
What will be affected?
Click the links below to see how the industrial action will impact upon life in Hampshire.
A list of schools that will be closed is also available.
Due to the industrial action today, motorists are advised to avoid travelling through the city centre by car during the afternoon.
Some main routes will be closed between 12.15pm and 2.15pm so that those taking part in industrial action or protests can proceed through the city safely.
The road closures will include Houndwell Place, part of Palmerston Road, Pound Tree Road, High Street, Above Bar Street and Guildhall Square.
See the map below for more details.