Strikers picketing Sellafield have been warned of an angry public backlash amid claims they are showing a “total lack of regard” for the wider community.

The comments from a council nuclear chief come as industrial action from Mitie contractors has led to “gridlock” on some of the county’s roads.

Security guards, catering staff and cleaners have been setting up pickets outside the nuclear site in a dispute over pay, launching a series of ongoing strikes. But David Moore, Copeland Council’s nuclear portfolio holder, has claimed attitudes to the strikers are now hardening.

He also said Sellafield workers themselves were “getting angry” at the continuing disruption and that strikers were “losing sympathy”.

But Unite insisted that the “vast majority” of residents and Sellafield workers are “extremely supportive” of the strike.

The union has also urged the outspoken politician to meet the workers and discuss their pay and working conditions rather than criticising them.

Mr Moore, who is also the borough’s deputy mayor, stressed that he accepted the right to industrial action.

But he also claimed that ordinary people were being disrupted by a dispute that has “nothing to do with them”, with schoolchildren not getting in on time as they sit some of the most important exams of their lives. He added: “The strike shows a total lack of regard for the wider community. Their grievance is with Mitie not the local community.

“Villages are gridlocked; people are missing hospital appointments; local businesses are unable to go about their work; and health care professionals and carers unable to attend to people.”

He claimed small businesses are struggling to make deliveries and were having to pay staff for sitting in traffic jams on the A595.

He raised two specific examples – a farmer who lost one of his livestock because he couldn’t reach the stricken animal on time, and a local business owner who had three vehicles stuck on the roads at one time.

Unite regional officer Ryan Armstrong said: “Unite is following the law regarding picketing and has also agreed measures with Sellafield to ensure that emergency vehicles are not obstructed when they need to enter or exit the site.

“The vast majority of local residents and fellow Sellafield workers are extremely supportive of the Mitie workers and recognise that it is obscene they are on poverty pay.

“Perhaps rather than criticising workers who are paid just £8.45 an hour he should be putting pressure on Sellafield to force Mitie to enter into negotiations, to ensure that workers are paid a fair and decent wage.

“Rather than criticise low paid workers, perhaps Mr Moore would like to actually come and meet the workers and discuss their working conditions and the challenges they face on a daily basis.”

A Mitie spokeswoman said the company was “very keen” to minimise disruption for the local community. She added: “However, as Unite knows, GMB is the only recognised union on our soft services contract at Sellafield. This continues to be a constructive relationship.

“Following recent successful pay negotiations with GMB, we have increased hourly rates for employees at Sellafield. This offer was accepted following a ballot of GMB union members.”