12 hour delays expected at London Heathrow as strike action by border officers is set to go ahead on 30 November, but the UK will remain ‘open for business’.
The planned strike by 6,500 immigration officers will cause severe disruption at air and sea ports across the country, the UK Border Agency has admitted.
Britain’s main gateway airport, London Heathrow, will be worst hit with passengers facing delays of up to 12 hours, but travellers will face frustration in many other parts of the country will also face major delays next Wednesday.
It is understood that airports and airlines have been told that virtually none of the 6,500 full time immigration officers are expected to turn up for their shift next Wednesday.
Retired and laid-off immigration officers are being offered £300 each to break next week’s strike amid fears that the stoppage will cause chaos at air and sea ports across the country.
The one-off payment reflects what one Whitehall insider described as growing panic within the UK Border Agency over the impact the walkout will have.
The Agency’s plight has been deepened by the decision of the normally moderate Immigration Service Union to hold a strike in its history on the same day as the more militant Public and Commercial Services Union.
It will leave the Agency relying on untrained staff who, at the very least, will take considerably longer to inspect and clear passengers as they arrive.
Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency, said:
‘Securing the border is our priority and over the last weeks and months we have considered all options to ensure we are prepared for union action.
‘We always aim to minimise any disruption caused by the decision of unions to strike, but travellers could see longer waiting times at some ports and airports.’
Not only will ports and airports in Britain be hit, the strike is expected to backed by immigration officers working Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk as well as the Eurostar stations in Parios, Lille and Brussels.
A spokesman for Eurostar advised passengers to allow a little extra time to clear immigration because of anticipated “slightly longer” queuing times.
With the contingency plans still unclear Eurotunnel voiced fears that motorists using the shuttle train across the Channel could face delays with traffic backing up onto the French motorway network.
“We still don’t know how many staff will go on strike,” said a Eurotunnel spokesman. “Although traffic volumes will be low, it doesn’t take long for queues to build up and frustration grows very quickly.”
Back in Britain, Gatwick airport is drawing up its own contingency plans to handle the 28,000 arrivals due on Wednesday.
It is setting aside holding areas within terminals to accommodate passengers, rather than leaving them on aircraft until the immigration hall can deal with them.
Meanwhile Heathrow said it had received an encouraging response from airlines to its appeal to fly planes half empty to ease pressure on the airport.
Several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and BMI have said that passengers can reschedule their flights if they wish to avoid arriving during the strike.
However Heathrow has the option of cancelling flights if necessary to keep the airport moving and prevent the chaos extending throughout the week. Source: The Telegraph.
The UKBA added that ‘robust arrangements’ are in place to maintain the security of the border ahead of planned strike action on 30 November 2011. Over the last weeks and months the agency has undertaken significant work, including:
- training managers, staff and contractors to the high standards needed to carry out secure border checks;
- asking staff from overseas posts to provide additional cover on the day; and
- working with travel partners like airlines and port operators to identify potential pressure points.
The agency also said that ‘preparations are focused on ensuring every option has been considered to ensure a pool of suitably-trained staff is available to operate the border securely.
‘Staffing on the day will be structured to allow maximum flexibility to meet the aim of maintaining a full range of checks.’
UKBA Advice for customers:
The 4 Home Office unions are participating in a strike which will affect border control from the beginning of the evening of Tuesday 29 November until 23:59 on Wednesday 30 November. Starting times will vary as each port has different shift patterns.
We will aim to keep disruption at a minimum but our priority remains the security of the border and we could see longer waiting times at some ports and airports. We have put contingency plans in place and will work hard to keep delays to a minimum.
You may wish to check with your carrier if you are travelling on 30 November.
Passengers arriving in the UK can assist us by:
- having travel documents, including passports, available and taken out of any wallets;
- using automatic e-Passport gates (where available);
- having landing cards fully completed and ready; and
- staying in family groups.
Services in the UK, including enforcement and public enquiry offices, will be as close to business-as-usual service as possible.
We would like to thank passengers for their patience as we work to maintain the security of the UK’s border.
We will post additional information on this website as it becomes available. Ends.
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