Border Force strikes over the Christmas period could force UK airports to close, officials have warned.
Steve Dann, chief operating officer at Border Force, said “robust plans” are in place to limit the impact of the industrial action, but warned that “people should be prepared for disruption”.
Around 1,000 Border Force staff who are members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) will strike every day from Friday 23 December until the end of the year, with the exception of 27 December.
Mr Dann said safety and security at borders will be “non-negotiable” during the strike action, adding that the government has a “reasonable expectation” that it would be able to keep “most if not all ports open”. However, it would not rule out closures under worst-case contingency plans when staff walkout this week.
He said: “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.”
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.
Mr Dann added: “Military personnel and volunteers from across the Civil Service have been trained to support Border Force at airports and ports through the strike period. We have a reasonable expectation that by using this contingency workforce, we will be able to deliver a service that keeps most if not all ports open.”
He added: “Our contingency workforce will not be able to operate with the same efficiency as our permanent workforce. As in the case with any industrial action, we simply will not know the levels of Border Force permanent officers who will report for duty each day and what the operational impacts might be.”
Mr Dunn said that Border Force will “expect operators to make any adaptions” to ensure a “smooth flow of passengers” and urged travellers to use e-gates if they can, check with operators that there has been no change to their service, and to be “kind and patient” with staff.
Which airports will be affected by the strike action?
Border Force officers at locations in England, Scotland and Wales will strike for eight days over Christmas in a dispute over pay, pensions and jobs. PCS members employed by the Home Office on passport control will take action at the following airports on 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30 and 31 December:
- London Heathrow
- London Gatwick
Members will also strike at the port of Newhaven on the same dates.
Heathrow Airport said earlier this month that it is doing “everything we can” to ensure no flights are cancelled due to Border Force strikes and insisted “the vast majority of travellers will be unaffected”.
It said in a statement: “We are doing everything we can to protect a full flight schedule on strike days, so departing passengers should expect to travel as normal. Arriving passengers with UK, EU, US, Canadian and some other passports will be able to use e-gates as usual and their journeys should be largely unaffected on strike days.
“Border Force has contingency measures to ensure other arriving passengers are cleared safely and as quickly as possible. We are continuing to support them to strengthen these plans so that as few people are impacted as possible. If passengers who cannot use e-gates are concerned about travelling during the strikes, their airline may be able to offer them alternative travel dates.”
The Home Office and Border Force said in a joint statement: “Those who are due to travel into the UK during the proposed industrial action should be prepared to face longer wait times at UK border control.”
It added: “Please be patient and respect officers who are working to keep our citizens safe and border secure, and supporting travellers during the strike action.”