Airport strikes could go on for months, says PCS union boss

Strikes by Border Force staff at UK airports could go on for months unless the government enters talks over pay, the head of the PCS union has said.

Mark Serwotka said the union had a “mandate” for walkouts up until May. Thousands of travellers arriving in the UK have been told to expect disruption over the festive period as passport control staff began strikes on Friday.

Congestion and delays on major roads is also expected as the Christmas getaway begins. The AA and RAC motoring groups said that Friday would be the busiest day on the roads this week, with an estimated 16.9 million journeys being made across the UK.

National Highways has urged drivers to plan journeys and take extra care with rain set to hit various areas of the country over the coming days.

Meanwhile, 1,000 Border Force staff – many of whom check passports – are staging the first of a series of strikes from Friday to 26 December and from 28 to 31 December.

Employees will walk out at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow airports, as well as the Port of Newhaven. Military personnel and civil servants have been drafted in to cover strikers.

The sector is the latest to take industrial action over pay, jobs and conditions, with postal workers also walking out on Friday and national rail strikes starting again from Christmas Eve.

Mr Serwotka said disruption for passengers was an “unfortunate reality” of the strikes but said any anger should be directed at the government, who he claimed had “ignored” the union.

He said the union was raising cash for a strike fund which meant members could “sustain” strikes “for months and after Christmas”.

“Not only could it be six months, I think in January what you will see is a huge escalation of this action in the civil service and across the rest of the economy unless the government get around the negotiating table,” he said.

This will be the busiest Christmas for airports since 2019, and the first without any Covid restrictions in place.

Some 579 flights are due to land at Heathrow on Friday. However, early on Friday, there have been no issues reported at Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester.

Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, said passengers on departing flights would be unlikely to be delayed. It said arriving passengers would be able to use passport e-gates as usual But these cannot be used by all passengers, including children under 12.

Adam Jones, head of passenger operations at Gatwick, said in a worst-case scenario, there would be queues of two hours for passengers arriving at the airport, but added there were no plans to hold people on aircraft. Jasmine O’Donoghue feels anxious about getting home to Jersey from Costa Rica
Jasmine O’Donoghue, 25, has been in Costa Rica since 16 November and is due to travel to Heathrow then on to Jersey on 27 December, which is not a strike date.

Nevertheless, she has been advised she should change her flight due to the impact of the strikes on domestic transfers.

“Right now I don’t know if I’m getting on the flight, or will change my flight,” she said. “It would be nice for my family and my boyfriend if I was at home for New Year after being away for so long. Aviation data firm Cirium said over the period of the festive strikes, a total of 8,910 flights will arrive, with a capacity of nearly 1.8 million people.

Steve Dann, Border Force chief operating officer, said military personnel and civil servants, “many of whom are sacrificing their Christmases”, would “not be able to operate with the same efficiency as our permanent workforce.

Source: BBC

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