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Expect delays as Border Force staff at passport control join Christmas strikes

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The Public and Commercial Services Union, the largest trade union representing civil servants, has confirmed that Border Force staff will strike over Christmas.

The strike affects PCS members employed by the Home Office dealing with passport control. It is not clear what percentage of Border Force are PCS members or what percentage will choose to lose up to eight days of pay by striking.

The strike action will take place on eight days over Christmas, on 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st December. Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow airports are all affected. The Port of Newhaven will also be affected.

It is not clear what happens at other airports. It is possible that PCS does not have any active members elsewhere.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“The government can stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts money on the table. 

“Like so many workers, our members are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. They are desperate. They are being told there is no money for them, while they watch ministers giving out government contracts worth billions of pounds to their mates. 

“Some sections of the media have accused us of playing politics with these strikes. Let me be clear: our dispute is with the employer. 

“We will fight to improve our members’ pay, terms and conditions regardless of who is in Downing Street.” 

PCS hasn’t provided information on how many Border Force staff it represents, the turnout from the ballot or indeed the percentage that voted in favour of a strike.

What impact will this have?

It is not clear, yet, how much of an impact this strike action will have.

No passport checks are required to leave the UK so departing passengers should not be impacted.

Clearly, eight days of strikes during some of the busiest travel periods are far from ideal. Border Force struggles to cope during periods of disruption at the best of times, so reducing the number of staff at immigration will inevitably lead to longer wait times and queues.

The strike is likely to disproportionately affect families with children under 12 and those travelling on passports that cannot be used at eGates, as these people must all be manually checked upon entry.

The government has been preparing mitigation plans for weeks. The Home Office recently confirmed to The Independent that it would look to bring in “third parties”, including the army, to take on some of the work.

That might ease some of problems but it will not eliminate disruption entirely. Any third parties are likely to be less clued-up and efficient when it comes to the day-to-day operations of dealing with thousands of arriving passengers.

In a worst-case scenario, airports may have to force airlines to cancel flights in order to prevent overcrowding inside terminal buildings. This is uncharted territory and it remains to be seen what the impact will be.

Update 8th December:

The Times (paywall) is now reporting that airlines are being told to scrap 30% of flights over the affected days as more than 1,000 staff go on strike.

Phil Douglas, director general of Border Force, told airlines:

“Our contingency workforce will not be able to operate with the same efficiency as our permanent workforce. As is the case with any industrial action, we simply will not know levels of permanent Border Force officers who will report for duty until the day and what the operational impacts might be.”

Comments (17)

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  • Jaime says:

    I unnerstand there’s 600 soldiers getting trained up to give a look at the passports?

    These soldiers will keep the UK borders open, probably better than maldita Barcelona Douana during fkn Covid-19, not that Covid-19 actually killed many Spanish people!

  • PeterG says:

    Why are some airports Luton, Stansted, Edinburgh not listed? Thought Border Force was the same throughout?

    • Rob says:

      Unionised members via PCS only.

      • Roy says:

        It’s also possible that PCS held separate per-workplace ballots, and some ports/airports voted against strike action, or some ballots were invalid due to low turnout – hence strikes only called in some workplaces and not others.

    • Tim says:

      Union law sets down very strict rules about ballots. To be valid a ballot must be for a specific workplace. It sounds like they have done that and got a valid strike ballot for some workplaces only. Of course others may follow.

  • Peter Parker says:

    Look we all understand that the UK is in a financial crisis. But these unions are affecting people in that same crisis. We wouldn’t accept this in other situation (impact those unable to defend themselves against your action), this would be classed as bullying. And what about industries that aren’t union controlled. We’re having to work with no or minimal pay increments and then to add to that, we’re then impacted by the unionised industries crying that 8% isn’t enough. Again I feel for you. But for the rest of us, if we don’t like the pay rises or lack or we are giving we either accept it or change job.

    • Roy says:

      If people do quit en masse to seek better paid jobs, then the impact is likely to be rather worse than a strike!

    • yorkieflyer says:

      2% offer to Civil servants such as border force actually and this after 10 years of pay restraint

      • Roy says:

        Quite. There was a time when the wider public had limited sympathy, given the better job security and better pensions of the public sector. But I’m not sure the latter still exists, and I doubt the former is enough to compensate for a decade of stagnating pay.

        The extent to which people in work cannot afford to heat their homes and buy food for their families is quite frightening. Granted, this is in no way specific to the public sector – but when workers are asked to take what is in many cases close to a 10% real terms pay *cut*, after a decade of pay freezes, what do you expect?

        • StanTheMan says:

          They never mention their cast iron final salary pensions. Gold dust, and now unheard of in the private sector.
          But also given 10% increases to benefits claimants puts any govt on very thin ice.

          • aDifferentSimon says:

            are final salary pensions still a thing anywhere? I was a post doc at a uni 20 years ago and they were removed for new entrants back then.

    • JamesK says:

      ‘Accept it or change job’ –
      Tory langauge from someone with their finger firmly on the pulse lol

  • Ted says:

    First long haul flight since 2019 booked for nye. It’s been cancelled and rearranged 7 times already. From a totally selfish perspective I hope the outbound traffic is kept running as normal, but I doubt it will. Good luck to me and anyone else with bookings over that period. Merry Christmas 🎄

    • Roy says:

      If they have to cancel flights, aren’t short haul cancellations generally the norm?

      Also, maybe they would still chose to fly outbound, even if they have to cancel inbound (and fly an empty plane)? These strikes don’t impact their ability to move aircraft, only their ability to move passengers… Or is that wishful thinking?

      • Ted says:

        Hello Roy,
        Border force strikes are new to me. I’ve had flights cancelled because of airline strikes, etc, previously, but I can’t remember if they prioritised long haul then either. I think in those instances everyone was ruined.
        Whilst not being able to go away is going to be a sad irritation, the people who can’t afford to eat is obviously the greater consideration. I hope the people involved in the strikes get what they deserve, and what they need to actually live.
        If my flight is cancelled, I’m tempted to ignore the notice and try my luck turning up at the airport and spending New Years in the concorde lounge anyway 😀

  • Bobri says:

    As someone who has to go through “All other passports” both in the UK and Europe quite frequently, I am yet to encounter a border force that would manage the queues worse than in the UK. Now that increased number of BA flights lands at T3, I have to actively dodge LHR. Landing there after an A380 from Dubai or Doha means you kiss goodbye 3 hours of your life

  • Jerry says:

    I think I may have been lucky here. I am due to fly LHR/MUC on the 27th (the ‘non-strike’ day) and back originally on the 31st, but LH have provided a very low cost change option so have decided to avoid the strikes completely and fly back on the 1st Jan instead. I’d rather a small change fee and an additional hotel night to see 2023 dawn in Munich as opposed to standing around in T2 for an age.

    I’m really glad that this article rightly comments on the disproportionate effect of this strike on families. Until my son hit the magic age of 12 and became eligible for e-gates at LHR we had the constant nightmare of the discriminatory ‘family lane’ into which UK tax payers who dared to have young children were dumped and left to Border Farce’s mercy. At peak times it took forever. I know that (to use their own words) ‘tougher checks take longer’ but it would have helped if the family lane didn’t, on regular occassion, become the dumping ground for anyone the queue combers couldn’t correctly identify. We provide an appalling service at our borders, so my sympathy for this strike, conveniently timed to provide a lengthy Christmas break, is somewhat limited.

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