Air passengers at several UK airports, including Heathrow, are facing major disruption over the Christmas period after border control staff started strike action.
Border Force workers at five major airports walked out on the first of eight days of strikes as part of wider action by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union which is also affecting the Department for Work and Pensions, National Highways and DVSA.
Around 1,000 Border Force staff employed by the Home Office will walk out at London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow airports on 23 to 26 December, and 28 to 31 December. Members will also strike at the port of Newhaven on the same dates.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the strike will have a “significant impact” on travellers. He warned the government against bringing in the military to cover for the strikes, saying there was not enough time to train them properly.
Workers are striking as part of a bitter dispute over pay, pensions and jobs which has seen the union reject a 2% pay offer from the government. Mr Serwotka said the government could stop the strikes tomorrow if it “puts money on the table” and warned that the union could escalate its actions in the new year if a settlement cannot be reached.
It follows strikes already announced in the Driver and Vehicle Standard Agency (DVSA), Rural Payment Agency (RPA), National Highways and Department for Work and Pensions.
Mr 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.”
The 72-hour strike action will affect flights operated by 10 major airlines from Heathrow Terminals 2, 3 and 4, impacting holidaymakers heading abroad for a Christmas break. Around 350 members of Unite working for aviation services firm Menzies will walk out from 4am on Friday 16 December, which will lead to some flight disruption.
Flights operated by Air Canada, American Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Air Portugal, Austrian Airlines, Qantas, Egypt Air, Aer Lingus and Finnair are most likely to be affected by the three-day strike action .
Ground handling workers are walking out in protest over pay after Unite said staff have been offered a flat rate increase – which it branded a real-terms pay cut. The Unite union said workers have not received a "fair" pay offer and it is dedicated to defending its members.
Unite General secretary Sharon Graham said: “Menzies needs to have a long, hard look at itself. This is a highly lucrative company, which has made a fair pay offer to one group of its workers but isn’t prepared to make a similar offer to its ground handlers.
“Unite is entirely dedicated to defending its members’ jobs, pay and conditions. Our members at Menzies will continue to receive the union’s complete support.”
The action follows a similar dispute in November when a three-day strike hit passengers at the airport. A Heathrow spokesman said: “We are aware of industrial action proposed by Menzies colleagues from 16-18 December.
“We encourage airport partners who would be affected to continue with their contingency planning and we will support them to minimise the impact on passengers, should the strike go ahead.”
The action will be followed by a further 72-hour strike at the end of this month, beginning on Thursday 29 December and ending at 3.59am on Sunday 1 January, leading to major flight disruption for passengers.
The strike action comes as the UK braces for the biggest wave of industrial action in decades this winter as thousands of workers are set to walk out over disputes over pay, conditions and terms. Winter strikes will hit a range of public services including the NHS, railways, postal services and education as staff demand improvements.
Union members working on England’s roads also announced 12 days of strike action over Christmas and the new year. Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) at National Highways, who plan, design, build, operate and maintain the country’s roads, will take part in a series of staggered strikes from 16 December 16 to 7 January. The union said the action risks bringing roads to a standstill and will coincide with planned strikes by RMT members on the railways.
Mr Serwotka added: “We know our members’ action could inconvenience travellers who plan to visit their relatives over the festive period, but our members have been placed in this situation by a government that won’t listen to its own workforce.
“With the serious cost-of-living crisis, they deserve to be paid properly for the important work they do, keeping our roads running safe and free. The government is in the driving seat here – it’s in a position to stop these strikes by putting money on the table.”
PCS will be announcing strike dates in other departments, including the Home Office, over the next few weeks.