London: A major public sector strike took place in Britain on Thursday, with hundreds of thousands of workers rallying against the government`s austerity-driven spending cuts and pay restraint measures.
The strike involves a wide range of workers from teachers and civil servants to street sweepers and park attendants.
Rallies were held in cities around Britain, including at London`s Trafalgar Square, while picket lines were set up at public buildings including fire stations and local government offices.
A fifth of schools were closed along with libraries, museums and even driving test centres.
Government estimates put the number of people on strike at under half a million.
One of the largest trade unions, UNISON, which first called the strike, said they thought hundreds of thousands of their members had withdrawn their labour.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) did not have a figure for those taking action but said that just over one million public sector workers had been balloted.
As part of a push to balance the public finances, Prime Minister David Cameron`s coalition government froze public sector salaries after taking power in 2010 for two years and has since limited pay rises to one percent a year.
Unions say this means that salaries cannot keep up with rising living costs and that now "enough is enough".
"This is why today`s strikers deserve public support," said TUC general secretary Frances O`Grady.
"They are saying that ordinary workers should not be locked out of the recovery, and that we should all get a fair share as the economy grows again."
Britain`s economy emerged from recession in 2009 following a downturn rooted in the global financial crisis and has since been gaining strength.
"We went through a deep, deep recession, we had a huge budget deficit and we needed pay restraint," Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told BBC radio.
"Public sector pay has increased by more than in the private sector since the recession... If we had raised pay more, there would have been more jobs lost."
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office ministry said under a fifth of civil servants -- fewer than 80,000 -- were on strike, but did not have a figure for the wider public sector.
"Most public sector workers have reported for work today and well-rehearsed contingency plans are ensuring that nearly all key public services are being delivered as usual," he said.