UK strikes: Union boss warns travellers could face months of disruption amid Border Force industrial action

Travellers could face months of disruption unless the Government makes an improved pay offer, the leader of striking Border Force staff has warned.

Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union general secretary Mark Serwotka predicted there would be a “huge escalation” in industrial action next monthacross the civil service unless UK ministers enter into negotiations.

Around 1,000 PCS members employed by the Home Office to operate passport booths walked out on Friday at Heathrow, Glasgow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick and Manchester airports, as well as the Port of Newhaven in East Sussex.

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The Border Force strikes will take place every day for the rest of the year, except December 27.

Army personal at Heathrow airport on there way to work on border control. Picture: SWNS

Mr Serwotka said he hoped the Government would “do the right thing and get around the negotiating table and put some money upfront”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are raising money, we have a strike fund that means we can sustain this action.

“Our strike mandate lasts right up until May. We will be supporting this action up to May and we would re-ballot again if we have to.

“I think in January what you will see is a huge escalation of this action in the civil service and across the rest of our economy unless the Government get around the negotiating table.”

About 250,000 passengers are arriving on flights at affected airports on Friday.

Travellers were warned by Border Force bosses to expect delays amid fears long queues at passport control could lead to people being held on planes, disrupting subsequent departures.

But the deployment of military personnel to check passports ensured passengers did not appear to be delayed on the first day of the strikes.

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Officials at Glasgow Airport had reported no major disruption by Friday afternoon.

A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “The morning arrivals peak has started well. Immigration halls are free-flowing at Heathrow, with Border Force and the military contingency providing a good service.”

A spokesman for Gatwick said: “Everything is going OK at the moment. There’s plenty of staff. The e-gates are all operating. It’s going well.

“There’s no delays as far as we’re aware, and no queues at the moment. I’m standing in arrivals and passengers are flowing through as normal.”

Aislinn Laing, a co-bureau chief for international news agency Reuters in Spain, wrote on Twitter shortly before 10am: “Just flown into Gatwick from Madrid. Military manning border, absolutely no queues, quicker than usual and service from a naval rating with a beaming smile.

“Was bracing to feel a bit embarrassed about the state my country is in, but instead feeling very proud.”

A passenger with the Twitter username @olicohen wrote: “Got through Heathrow airport border control in the quickest time in ten years. Being run with military precision. If only the army could run it permanently.”

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Defence secretary Ben Wallace announced that members of the armed forces would receive an extra £20 for each day spent training or deployed to provide cover for industrial action during the festive period.

More than 1,000 personnel from across the Navy, Army and RAF have received training in recent weeks for roles such as passport checking and ambulance driving.

The military was deployed as Rishi Sunak said he was “sad” and “disappointed” about widespread strike action, but insisted refusing to negotiate on public sector pay was the “right thing” in the long term.

The Prime Minister defended the Government as acting “fairly and reasonably” on the “difficult question”, but insisted he could not budge or risk stoking inflation.

“I am really sad and I am disappointed about the disruption that is being caused to so, so many people’s lives, particularly at Christmas time,” he said.

But speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a homeless shelter in London, the Prime Minister insisted: “What I’m trying to do is make the right long-term decisions for the country, for everybody’s benefit. I want to make sure we reduce inflation, part of that is being responsible when it comes to setting public sector pay.

“In the long term, it’s the right thing for the whole country that we beat inflation.”

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Meanwhile, postal deliveries and driving lessons are set to be disrupted by strikes in the days before Christmas.

Royal Mail, National Highways and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) employees also took industrial action on Friday.

They will continue their strike into Saturday, when staff represented by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, Abellio London bus workers and Environment Agency workers will launch separate waves of action.

This follows two days of strikes by NHS staff south of the Border, with thousands of nurses walking out on Tuesday and ambulance workers joining picket lines on Wednesday.

National Highways workers responsible for motorways and major A-roads in London and the South East, also represented by the PCS, will continue their four-day walkout, which started on Thursday.

Postal workers represented by the Communication Workers Union walked out for their fifth day of December action in a move Royal Mail criticised as “a cynical attempt to hold Christmas to ransom”.

The company said it would be doing all it can to deliver Christmas mail, saying the industrial action has cost it £100 million.

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RMT railway workers will stage another strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve, which could prevent people from making it home for Christmas.

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