UK Border Force staff plan to go on strike at airports across the country during the busy Christmas period in a dispute over pay, one of the United Kingdom’s biggest trade unions said, as it warned that travellers will face severe disruptions.
Border Force workers at several major British airports – including the country’s busiest, London’s Heathrow – will walk off the job for eight days, from December 23 to 31, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said on Wednesday.
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Border Force guards at airports in England, Scotland and Wales are to take strike action for eight days over Christmas as part of the #PCS rolling programme of strike action.https://t.co/dYbcmmSwVD pic.twitter.com/bFjjQWjPPs
— PCS Union (@pcs_union) December 7, 2022
The union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said about 2,000-3,000 workers would be on strike.
The union said staff employed by the UK’s interior ministry, the Home Office, in passport booths would take action at the country’s busiest airports – Heathrow and Gatwick – as well as Birmingham Airport, Cardiff Airport, Glasgow Airport, Manchester Airport and the Port of Newhaven.
“It’s certainly going to jeopardise the getaway plans for hundreds of thousands of people because of the width and breadth of the strike action that the PCS union are planning,” said Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London.
“The dates we are talking about are essentially the peak times that people will be wanting to either get away for a bit of winter sun or perhaps return to their home countries to see their families after having spent time working here in the UK.”
PCS members working in other government departments, including the Highways Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions, have already announced walkouts over pay and conditions.
Serwotka said workers were struggling to cope with the soaring cost of living, caused by double-digit inflation and sky-high energy prices on the back of the war in Ukraine.
“The government can stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts money on the table,” he said, telling a London news conference the walkout would have “severe” effects.
PCS members were “desperate” and a proposed 2-percent pay increase was not enough when inflation had crossed 11 percent, he added, promising to escalate action in the new year unless the deadlock was broken.
He said, “PCS members come to me, sometimes in tears, saying they can’t afford to put food on the table.”
The strikes are part of spiralling instances of industrial action by railway workers, nurses, ambulance drivers and teachers.
The seaport of Newhaven, in southeastern England, will also be affected.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) confirmed on Wednesday that more than 40,000 railway workers would walk off the job later in December, including over the Christmas break, as well as over several days in January in a dispute about pay and working conditions.
RMT accused the government of scuttling negotiations, “rather than trying to resolve the dispute”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hit out earlier on Wednesday at “unreasonable” union leaders and warned of “new tough laws” to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public.
He did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to proposals first put forward in 2019 for a minimum level of service during strikes.
Sunak’s spokesman later said work on the plan was taking place “at speed”.
“We will consider all ways of curbing further action including legislation,” he told reporters.
A Heathrow spokesperson said the airport was working with airlines and Border Force on plans to mitigate disruptions.
“The Home Office advises that immigration and customs checks may take longer during peak times on strike days, and Heathrow will support Border Force to minimise these impacts with the aim of processing passengers through the border as efficiently as possible,” the spokesperson said.
Gatwick said it expected flights to operate as normal and it would also make extra airport staff available to help passengers on strike days.