London’s flagship Heathrow Airport will see further delays for UK travellers at immigration points this evening as two trade unions, whose members are responsible for border checks, go on strike.
Thousands of members the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) will leave their posts at midnight – or not turn up for work.
The strike could even begin before the official midnight start-time, with workers whose shifts commence at 7pm opting to ignore the first five hours of their ‘day’.
They will be joined by members of the Immigration Services Union (ISU), whose membership includes some 4,500 border guards.
The two unions are making their stance in protest about planned government pension reforms. The PCS represents around 250,000 public sector workers, of whom some 13,000 work for the Border Agency at ports and airports across the UK.
This industrial action will come as an extra blow to long-suffering passengers arriving at Britain’s largest airport. Recent weeks have seen travellers forced to wait up to three hours to enter the country, with long queues building up at passport checkpoints.
Staff shortages – a result of the merger of customs and immigration services two years ago, as well as public-sector job cuts – have been blamed as a key cause of the long wait-times.
Richard Simcox, a spokesman for the PCS, expects the effects of tonight’s strike to run beyond the official 24-hour window, but also concedes that the walk-out may be countered by emergency staff being brought in to man vacated positions.
‘There will be some knock-on effect into Friday morning,’ he states.
‘We expect that the UK border agency will throw all its resources [at the strike], bringing in extra staff and drafting in volunteers.
‘But they won’t be trained to do the job, and in many cases they won’t have the right level of security clearance, so they won’t be able to access the systems the Border Agency uses.
‘They will only be able to sit on desks and wave passengers through.
‘They won’t be checking passports at the gates, and if that were to go on for any length of time there would be a major incident.’
The government has hit back at the strike, and says it has plans in place to off-set any delays caused by staff absences.
‘We are preparing to use our trained pool of backroom staff and Ministry of Defence police to boost staffing levels at ports and airports around the UK,’ says Immigration Minister Damian Green.
The strike comes as part of a wider ongoing dispute between the PCS and the government over manpower shortages and attempts to put extra staff in position.
The government plans to recruit 480 further staff, who would be on hand to assist at border posts during especially busy periods – but the PCS is refusing to co-operate.
The union views these potential extra workers as likely strike-breakers, and has condemned the idea as a ‘sticking plaster.’
It believes that cuts as part of the government’s austerity programme have gone too far – with a further 1000 front-line jobs set to vanish by 2014.
Today’s walk-out over pensions will be only the second time in its history that the Immigration Service Union has gone on strike – an indication that feelings are running high. Source: Daily Mail.
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