Brits could face Christmas travel chaos, with UK Border Force officers threatening to strike over the holiday period.
Up to 3,500 staff – represented by the Union for Borders, Immigration, and Custom (the ISU) – will take part in a ballot over potential strike action in the coming week.
If approved, the industrial action could see Border Force, visa officers, and immigration personnel walk out during the busy festive season.
This would delay security checks, causing lengthy queues and knock-on disruption.
Where in the UK could be the worst affected?
There are 140 ports and airports in the UK, and ISU staff work at all of them.
Larger airports like Heathrow, Gatwick, and Manchester – who endured severe disruptions over the Summer – are likely to be worst impacted.
Heathrow needs to recruit and train up to 25,000 security-cleared staff before the festive period, a task the airport has described as “a huge logistical challenge”.
“We are supporting, including establishing a recruitment taskforce to help fill vacancies, working closely with the government on a review of airline ground handling and appointing a senior operational executive to invest in joint working,” an airport spokesperson said.
At Manchester Airport, 200 new security staff are set to start jobs by the beginning of April 2023.
Popular travel ports could also be impacted. In July, passengers at Port of Dover – the departure point for ferries to France – experienced six hour delays due to security staff shortages.
Why are border force officials considering strike action?
ISU industrial action is rare – the union have only gone on strike twice before, in 1984 and 2012.
Members are demanding an eight per cent pay rise, citing eye-watering inflation of 10.6 per cent.
They have rejected the Home Office’s offer of a three per cent salary hike, an offer that ISU General Secretary Mark Gribbin described as an “appalling” real-terms pay cut.
“[The offer] disrespects the importance of your work,” he said in a message to members.
“You deserve so much better. You deserve a fair cost-of-living pay rise.”
Gribbin encouraged members to vote yes in the strike ballot, describing the industrial action as the “strongest possible expression of collective strength.”
The strike will also focus on ‘border ports,’ the union indicated. This could impact the importation of Christmas parcels and food.
When will UK Christmas strike action be confirmed?
The strike ballot is due to close on 31 October. To go ahead, more than 50 per cent of the members have to vote, and more than 40 per cent of the membership have to vote in favour.
It seems likely to go ahead, as a previous indicative strike ballot surpassed these thresholds.
However, the Home Office has downplayed the threat of disruption.
“We work closely with all UK ports and airports to ensure passengers and goods can cross the border as smoothly as possible, and will do so in the event of any industrial action,” a spokesperson said.
“Government have robust plans in place to deploy officers flexibly to support the flow of passengers and goods at the UK border.”
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