Thousands of passengers arriving at the UK’s busiest airports on Friday are being warned to expect delays as Border Force workers begin eight days of strikes.
More than 1,000 employees who are members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union will walk out, affecting passport control desks at six of the country’s busiest airports.
PCS members will strike at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow, as well as the port of Newhaven in East Sussex, in a dispute over pay, pensions and jobs. The industrial action will cause disruption from Friday 23 December until Boxing Day, before workers stage another round of walkouts from 28 until New Year’s Eve.
More than 10,000 flights are scheduled to land at those airports during those times and more than 250,000 passengers arriving on Friday have been warned to expect delays amid fears that long queues at passport control could lead to people being held on planes, disrupting subsequent departures.
The strike comes during the busiest Christmas for airports since 2019, as the first festive period without coronavirus travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka urged people affected by the strike action to vent their anger at the government. He said: “The government could stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts more money on the table. Like so many workers, Border Force employees are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. They are desperate.”
Soldiers and volunteers from the Civil Service have been trained to step in during the strikes, but there are fears that delays in checking the passports of arriving passengers could lead to long queues and even people being held on planes, causing disruption to subsequent departures.
Steve Dann, chief operating officer at Border Force, said on Thursday: “In anticipation of the strike action, Border Force has for a number of months undertaken extensive planning, and we’ve been working with the travel industry and continue to work closely with all UK ports to assess the impacts of the announcement on the travelling public.
“We do have robust plans in place to minimise delays to passengers, but we’ve been very clear from the start that people should be prepared for disruption and take action to plan ahead.”
Train, road and postal disruption
The Border Force strike comes as National Highways workers in London and the South East, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and Royal Mail workers are also taking industrial action on Friday.
These workers will continue their strike into Saturday (24 December), when staff represented by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, Abellio London bus workers and Environment Agency employees will also launch separate waves of action.
It follows two days of strikes by NHS staff, as thousands of nurses walked out on Tuesday, and ambulance workers joined picket lines on Wednesday.
National Highways workers - also represented by the PCS - who plan, design, build, operate and maintain the roads, are following action by colleagues in Yorkshire and Humber, north-west and north-east England. Mr Serwotka said they plan to “escalate” action ahead of Christmas and it is “likely to inconvenience travellers”.
Meanwhile, postmen and women represented by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) will walk out for their fifth day of December action, in a move which Royal Mail criticised as “a cynical attempt to hold Christmas to ransom”. The company said it will be doing all it can to deliver Christmas mail, revealing that the industrial action has cost it £100 million.
Elsewhere, RMT railway workers will stage another strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve, which could prevent people from making it home for Christmas. Post-Christmas, strike dates have been set until 26 January, with industrial action taking place daily until 13 January as the schedule stands.
Fresh ambulance strikes in January
Ambulance workers represented by Unison became the latest to announce fresh strike action in England, with members to walk out on 11 and 23 January.
The strike will affect London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West and will involve all ambulance employees, not just the 999 response crews as was the case on Wednesday. Unison said the new strikes were a result of the government’s “repeated refusal” to negotiate improvements to NHS pay this year.
NHS trust leaders have warned that Christmas could be one of the darkest to date for the health service, as strikes threaten to aggravate an “already deeply challenging situation”. Figures for last week show that one in four ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed to A&E teams at hospitals.