Public services in the UK were heavily disrupted on March 28 as thousands of public sector employees walked out on strike in a protest over pensions provision.

The dispute hinges on the government’s proposals to reduce retirement benefits for many support staff working in areas such as local councils, schools and the police.

The government is proposing amending the so-called ’85 year rule’, whereby local government employees can retire at age 60 if their age and length of career add up to 85 or more.

The government insists that not only is the rule perpetuating a two-tier pensions system, but it may also contravene EU legislation on age discrimination.

The government wants to axe the rule for all local government staff from April 2006, but trade unions argue this should only apply to new recruits. The unions’ grievances are further heightened by a perceived disparity between the rights of these local government support workers compared with other public sector staff, such as police and teachers, who will retain the right to retire at 60 on a full pension.

The strike was said to be the largest in Britain since the general strike of 1926, with schools, council services and some transport operations all affected.