Belfast Telegraph

We are being punished for working hard for the future

Health worker Isabella Owens, a veteran of the 1984 miners' strike, explains why she took part in yesterday's walkout

I have always been a strong supporter of the trade union movement. My father was a miner in Yorkshire and other friends and family worked down the mines as well, so I was out supporting them and Arthur Scargill during the miners' strike in the 1980s.

I haven't been involved in industrial action since then, but yesterday I stood together with millions of other public sector employees to send a message to the Government that enough is enough.

The atmosphere on the picket line was just the same as it was all those years ago.

People are determined that they will not pay for the mistakes of the bankers.

I didn't take the decision to go out on strike lightly. No one wants to go on strike - it's a last resort. But I felt like I had no choice.

I am a 57-year-old woman, who has worked for the health service for the past 12 years.

I work on the children's retrieval vehicle, which is the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland.

We go all around the province and the Republic to collect children who are seriously ill and take them back to the children's hospital in Belfast.

For example, if a baby is born prematurely at Altnagelvin Hospital, we go and transfer them to Belfast, where they receive specialist care.

Our shift starts at 9am and finishes at 9pm, but from 6pm we also help with adult patients.

The job is very physical and stressful and I was looking forward to retiring in a couple of years. But if these changes go ahead, I won't be able to retire until I'm 68 or 69.

How on earth am I supposed to lift patients when I'm almost 70? It's absolutely ridiculous.

In addition, under the proposals, I will have to pay more into my pension. By 2014, my contributions will increase by 30%, meaning I will pay £283 more.

I am a single woman who has to support myself and I'm already struggling to get by, so I have no idea how I will be able to afford such an increase.

We have had a pay freeze for the past two years, but the cost of living has gone up so much. I live in Newcastle, but I work in Belfast and it is difficult even to afford to fill the car to get to and from work.

I heard David Cameron call the strike a damp squib. He has criticised us for taking action, but I just think that shows how far removed from reality he really is.

We are the people who work in the public sector, we are the ones who are struggling to make ends meet.

Perhaps he should come and do my job for a day.

The cuts to the health service budget have been savage and we are the ones who see the effects on a daily basis. He has no idea how difficult it is.

He certainly has no need to worry how he will afford to heat his home or feed himself in his old age. He has no idea what it is like to be a normal person just trying to get by.

At the moment, the health service pension is viable.

There is actually a £2bn excess each year that goes straight back to Westminster.

But if these proposals go ahead, the pension will no longer be viable, because the younger ones will stop signing up to it.

There have been claims that the public sector pension is somehow 'gold plated', but that simply isn't the case. Certainly, my pension won't be gold plated.

Our pension isn't a bonus; it is part of our wages that we have worked hard for that is being deferred until we have retired.

The Government is punishing us for working hard and trying to make preparations for our future.

I really hope we have done enough to show them we won't pay for other people's mistakes.

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