Police workers on picket lines

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Striking police civilian staff have set up pickets in protest at their pay ahead of a fresh walkout by firefighters.

Around 7,500 civilian police workers in London, including 999 call handlers, are taking action for 24 hours while Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members in England and Wales will stop work for six hours from 6.30pm.

It will be the eighth strike by the FBU since September in a bitter dispute over pensions and the retirement age.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union called the London strike in protest at a below-inflation 1% rise.

Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) community support officers, 999 call handlers, detention officers in custody suites and a range of administration and professional support staff are among those involved in the walkout.

Speaking at the picket outside New Scotland Yard in central London, PCS president Richard Rooney, 44, described the issue as a "crisis".

"What we're saying is a fair deal for all, we need a living wage. This is a living wage crisis," he said.

"We've run out of negotiations at the moment. They say there's no more money and we believe there is, and we also believe a pay freeze is totally unfair. Our members are the ones who are suffering and unfortunately once again those who are lowest paid pay the highest price.

"Our message is not just to our employer, who we've had good relations with over the years, it's actually to Government. And it's to Government, saying you try living on 1%. What does that mean in real terms? That means, to one of our average workers, an increase of about 64 pence a day before tax."

PCS vice-president Nedge Nedjdet, 52, said workers were fed-up after a three-year pay freeze.

"These are the people front line, that answer 999 calls, that keep London secure, the eyes and ears of the community. These are not civil servants that sit behind desks in Whitehall doing paper work, so they do deserve more pay than they've received," he said.

"We've asked for talks to carry on to resolve this even at the last minute. We've been told there's no money - there is. We're not asking for a penny from the taxpayer, we're not asking for nothing from the chancellery. All we want is what we've saved. This is money that is there."

Their colleague, Val Paris, 46, was also part of the group of around 20 protesters and said morale at the Metropolitan Police was "very low".

"People are just at the stage where we really are doing the job that we've done for years, we're committed to Londoners, we're committed to working for London, and we're really just not getting any reward, no recognition of what we do. Management just seem to see police staff as nothing," she said.

"People are having to use payday loan companies, people are having to use food banks. I remember a time when I never went into my overdraft - now being in the red's a pretty normal thing to be and that's with two incomes coming in, so people working for the Met for whom it's their sole income for their household, then it's really, really difficult."

An MPS spokesman said the strike action was taking place on a day when demand for the force's services is highest and other staff had been prevented from taking leave to cover for those on the walkout.

He said: "We have tried-and-tested business continuity plans for all eventualities, including industrial action.

"These ensure that critical functions performed by police staff are performed by police officers who are fully trained in those roles.

"In some cases we've also had to take the very difficult decision to cancel planned days off for officers with certain critical skills or in critical operational areas.

"These are clearly all steps we'd rather not take but we have to be prepared to maintain critical operational areas in the event of a strike action by police staff, and we are confident that we have appropriate plans in place."

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "Firefighters on duty over the festive period don't have much to celebrate this year and tomorrow's strike will remind the Government of the service we provide 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, every year of our careers.

"Nobody wants these strikes but firefighters remain extremely angry over the prospect of being priced out of their pensions and facing the sack owing to the Government's ludicrous pretence that men and women of 60 can meet the same fitness standards as 20-year-olds.

"The Government at Westminster has acknowledged our concerns but not done anything to seriously address them."

The union said the current storms and floods highlighted the valuable and wide-ranging job firefighters do. A further strike is being held for two hours from 6.30am on Friday.

The Government said firefighters will still receive generous pensions and has criticised the strikes.

The PCS said around 70% of its members supported the strike, adding that it was "laughable" to suggest there was a poor turnout.

A spokesman said: "We think the Met might be a bit confused, mixing up strikers and picketers, to come up with a frankly ludicrous figure."


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