The claim

“No concessions have been made by the government. We don’t recognise the figure of 800 new jobs at Border Force quoted by Mr Serwotka and no new jobs have been advertised since the union threatened to strike.”
Immigration minister Damian Green, 24 July 2012

The background

More than 25,000 border staff were on the verge of striking on the eve of the Olympic Games in a row over job cuts and pay.

The action was called in response to Home Office plans to cut 8,500 jobs, redundancies, a one per cent cap on pay increases on the back of a two-year pay freeze, and privatisation.

Around an hour before the home office was due to seek an injunction at the High Court preventing the strike from taking place, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) called it off.

That followed meetings last night,  during which, the  PCS said, it was told new jobs were to be created.

The union’s Mark Serwotka today claimed the threat of industrial action had forced the government to meet their demands. It was creating 800 new jobs in the border forces, and 300 more in the passport service, he said.

Yet moments after the strike had been called off, Damian Green, the immigration minister, dismissed the claims as “just straightforwardly not true”.

“No concessions have been made by the government,” he said. “We don’t recognise the figure of 800 new jobs at Border Force quoted by Mr Serwotka and no new jobs have been advertised since the union threatened to strike.”

So who’s right, FactCheck asks?

The analysis:

On 18 July, PCS members in the Home Office, including the UK Border Agency, Identity and Passport Service, and Criminal Records Bureau, voted in favour of strike action.

The following day, they gave notice of their intention to strike.

A day after that, on 20 July,  new jobs were advertised in the Border Agency – 400 for border officers, and 400 for assistant border officers – the 800 to which Mr Serwotka referred.

FactCheck has had a look at the advertisements for the vacancies. Taken from the civil service job vacancies website, the advert clearly says for each post: “Number of vacancies 400”.

The documents also made clear that they were advertised on 20 July, and that the closing date was 3 August.

This was about to become the quickest FactCheck we’ve ever encountered – a government minister’s claim appeared untrue within a matter of minutes.

We put the scenario before the Home Office and asked why Mr Green was denying that 800 new border force jobs had been created when we were looking at the vacancies on the screen in front of us.

We also pointed out that the jobs were advertised after the strike action was announced, unlike the suggestion within Mr Green’s claim.

But in a rather bizarre twist, the Home Office came back and said: “On 20 July we launched a significant recruitment campaign for Border Force officers and assistant Border Force officers by placing two adverts on the civil service jobs website.

“Unfortunately, due to an administrative error, a figure of 400 posts was repeated in both adverts by mistake. This will now be corrected.”

FactCheck asked the Home Office what the correct figure should have been, i.e. how many jobs should have been advertised?

Four hundred, came the reply.

And how were these to be split up between the posts?

“I don’t know, is the simple answer,” a spokeswoman said.

What was the “administrative error?” FactCheck asked.

“I think it was that when they were doing it online, in the process of putting the advert up, there was a box that says how many jobs there are [which has to be filled in with a number]. It was something like that,” another spokeswoman said.

Why did it take five days for the Home Office to spot the error, after calls from the media querying Mr Green’s claim, FactCheck asked the Home Office.

The spokeswoman said: “We’re not going to start going into when things happened.”

The verdict

“Administrative error” or not, Mr Green’s claim that “no new jobs have been advertised since the union threatened to strike” is wrong in a number of ways.

If we accept they made an “administrative error”, that leaves some 400 jobs which were advertised the day after the union gave notice they intended to strike, albeit not the 800 Mr Serwotka believed – with justification – were up for grabs.

The Home Office attempted to play down its  “administrative error” by saying it wasn’t that wrong. FactCheck pointed out it’s an error of 100 per cent.

A spokeswoman said: “I don’t think the figure is particularly important. That error is not that much of an error. We’re not going to start going into when things happened. The bigger picture is that the strike’s not happening.”

FactCheck suspects this has more than a whiff of The Thick of It to it.

One wonders what Malcolm Tucker would have made of it.

By Fariha Karim

Update:

Since we’ve posted, the PCS has issued a statement.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “”With these adverts posted one day after we called a strike then dangled in front of staff to try to dissuade them from taking action, this is now an incredible claim that raises very serious questions about the integrity of Home Office officials and ministers.

“It is either shambolic or a deliberate lie, and not only do we call on them to honour the 800 vacancies as advertised, we demand a full explanation into what happened, and an apology from the minister Damian Green who earlier accused us of making up these figures and claimed no new job ads had been posted since we threatened to strike.”

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