25 Jul 2012

UK border staff call off strike on eve of Olympic Games

More than 25,000 border staff call off a strike planned for Thursday, averting a travel nightmare for thousands heading to London on the eve of the Olympic Games.

The union, which includes immigration staff at major UK airports including Heathrow and Manchester, planned a 24-hour strike starting Thursday in a row over jobs and pay. The union announced today tha

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents immigration staff at major UK airports including Heathrow and Manchester, had planned a 24-hour strike starting Thursday in a row over jobs and pay. The union announced today that it had called off the strike after progress during “peace talks” with the government.

The PCS union said the government concessions included the creation 1,100 “new” jobs – 800 in the Border Agency and 300 in passport offices, including posts at Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and other airports and ports across the UK.

But within minutes of the union announcement, the Home Office and PCS were sparring about whether the jobs were “new” or existing jobs advertised to fill vacancies arising from normal staff turnover. Some reports suggested the union made up the figure as a “fig leaf” that would allow it to call off the strike and save face.

“No concessions have been made by the government.” Immigration Minister Damian Green said in a statement. “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.”

Green: ‘Irresponsible strike’

“We are pleased that the PCS leadership has seen sense and called off this irresponsible strike which was not supported by the majority of members,” Mr Green said.

Union spokesman Richard Simcox told Channel4 News that suggestions the PCS made up the creation of 1,100 new jobs was “obviously ridiculous.”

“We only heard last night about the 300 jobs in the passport office,” Simcox said, adding that the union learned the Home Office would create 800 border jobs on the weekend after the job adverts were posted. The union and government had not discussed the 1,100 jobs before last night, he said.

The union was due to strike on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Olympics as athletes from around the world poured into the UK to prepare for their events. The strike would have included staff across the Home Office, including the UK Border Agency, the Identity and Passport Service and Criminal Records Bureau. Planned industrial action short of a strike was scheduled to run until 20 August but it will be called off to allow for talks to take place.

‘Opportunist and wholly unjustified’

Some 12 per cent of the union’s membership had voted in favour of strike action. But the UK government had sought a High Court injunction today that, if granted, would have prevented border staff from striking.

The government had argued there was a “procedural error” in the ballot of members of the PCS union.

Home Office minister Lord Henley had told peers that officials were examining the legality of the planned walkout, saying the decision to call the strike on Thursday would have been “opportunist and wholly unjustified”.

The PCS cited serious issues at the heart of this dispute, including government plans to cut 8,500 Home Office jobs, a third of the workforce.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “These new jobs are a welcome step towards a recognition that the Home Office has been cracking under the strain of massive job losses, and that the answer is not more cuts but more investment.”