THE LINK Centre was closed to thousands of users over the weekend as Swindon council staff went on strike over a pay dispute.

Almost 150 Unison members in leisure centres, country parks and car parking services did not work on Saturday or Sunday in the first of a series of planned weekend strikes.

The industrial action is over the council’s move in July to withdraw extra pay for staff working unsociable hours – between seven and 14 per cent of people’s wages.

At the Link Centre, all weekend classes and sessions were cancelled, while the Swindon Wildcats ice hockey match against Guildford was brought forward a day to Friday.

About 35 employees stood at the entrance on Saturday, waving placards and handing out leaflets about the dispute.

Speaking at the picket, Bob Cretchley, Unison branch secretary, said: “It is an absolute tragedy that the Link is closed because the staff take no pleasure in striking.

“We are dedicated to serving local people and we understand only too well the disapointment that service users, particularly young children, will be experiencing.

“But we have to look at the bigger picture. This is something that came about as a result of an employer who refused to listen to their own staff and ran roughshod over them and imposed a major pay cut.

“And because they are refusing to talk to us there is absolutely no other course of action that people can take other than coming out on strike.

“Many of the staff simply cannot afford the level of pay cuts that have been implemented.”

Richard Bishop, 43, from Freshbrook, who runs services at the centre as an activity assistant, said his pay had dropped by about £300 a month.

“It is disgusting that our shift allowance has been taken away,” said the father-of-two.

“Some people think the strike is about us wanting a huge pay rise but it is not – it is about our shift allowance being taken away.

“I’ve got a family to support, I’ve got a mortgage to pay, I’ve got bills to pay and I struggle every month now.”

Wendy Hollands, 65, from Wootton Bassett, who has been a cleaner at the centre for 11 years, said she was down £145 a month.

The mother-of-two said: “I don’t think they were right to take the money away just like that. It doesn’t seem fair when the bosses have got big pay rises.”

In the town centre, the opening hours of the Brunel North, Brunel West and Flemming Way multi-storey car parks were significantly reduced after civil enforcement officers went on strike.

Staff formed pickets at the entrance of each car park and waved placards at passing motorists.

Thomas Steemkamp, 51, said: “I have got a high mortgage and all of a sudden I have taken a £420 salary cut.

“Last month I worked three Sundays’ overtime to try to make up that loss and I’m still £300 down.

“It just makes me feel very bitter when you read in the newspapers that the directors are earning more than the prime minister.”