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Strikes set to disrupt service.

Byline: By Steven Oliver

Staff plan walkout

Thousands of civil servants across the North East are preparing to strike again in a worsening dispute over pay and conditions.

Workers at local jobcentres and Government offices, including those at the massive Longbenton site, are set to walk out next Tuesday and Wednesday in support of the national industrial action.

They have rejected a renewed bid to solve the row by claiming it represented little or no improvement on the original pay offer.

A decision is also imminent from prison service admin workers on whether they will join the two-day strike.

But bosses at the Department for Work and Pensions have emergency plans in place and believe offices will open as usual after the Easter holidays this Friday and next Monday.

Union leaders believe the unrest among staff started over a 2.6% pay offer coupled with anger over how workers are graded ahead of any salary talks.

The unhappiness has been increased following a shock announcement by Gordon Brown in his Budget that he is planning to axe 40,000 civil service posts in a major shake-up of the system by 2004.

The regional chairman of the Public and Commercial Services Union, Mary Ferguson, said she has received a flood of new applications from civil servants looking to join the union in the wake of the news.

She said: "People are very annoyed by the announcement of 40,000 job losses. They already feel they have had enough of the way they have been treated."

The planned strikes follow two earlier walk-outs in February.

A spokesman for the DWP said: "We are confident our contingency plans should ensure the benefit systems operates as near-normal a service as possible with minimal disruption."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 7, 2004
Words:290
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