Strike at UK airports and borders threatens Christmas travel

Workers are having to choose 'between heating and eating'

About 100,000 civil servants have voted for a national strike over pay, pensions and jobs. PA
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Civil servants in the UK plan to strike over pay, pensions and job security, with borders, airports and all areas of transport affected, threatening to derail the Christmas holidays.

The strike will start in mid-December and continue for a month, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the strike will affect passport control at airports, driving tests and the issuing of driving licences.

The announcement comes as the UK reels from rampant inflation that contributed to a budget of tax rises in addition to strikes across other sectors including nurses, train drivers and postal workers.

“PCS members are angry. They helped to keep this country running during the pandemic, and in return, have been treated appallingly by this government,” Mr Serwotka said.

“With inflation now at 11.1 per cent, it is inconceivable that they are expected to cope with yet another real terms pay cut.

“With tens of thousands of members on poverty pay, it is no longer about tightening belts, but about choosing between heating and eating — and that is simply not acceptable for the government's own workforce.

“We have made it clear to the Cabinet Office that we are available for talks throughout this period. I hope that they do the right thing and come back to the table prepared to meet our demands.

“If not, then we are prepared to do what we need to do to show them the value of our members' work once they withdraw their labour.”

The striking workers include staff at Border Force, workers in the Department for Transport and in “all areas of transport”, the union said.

“We currently have a substantial strike fund and have today taken steps to raise significantly more money to support our members striking for a sustained period and carry the campaign on into 2023 if necessary,” a union statement said.

Mr Serwotka said exact details of the strike will be announced nearer the time to give the government as little notice as possible.

He said ministers should be dealing with the causes of the dispute rather than concentrating on contingency plans in response to strikes.

The PCS union said 86.2 per cent of its workers voted in favour of striking, the highest percentage vote in the union’s history.

A government representative said: “We regret this decision. We greatly value the work of civil servants across the country, but the PCS union's demands would cost an unaffordable £2.4 billion at a time when our focus must be on bringing down inflation to ease the pressure on households across the country, protect the vulnerable and rebuild our economy.

“Discussions will continue but we can provide reassurance that we have comprehensive plans in place to keep essential services running and to minimise disruption if these PCS strikes do go ahead.”

The government said the headline range for civil service pay awards is up to 3 per cent, with departments able to make average pay awards up to 2 per cent.

Mr Serwotka said co-ordinated action could be taken in the new year by unions currently involved in disputes or balloting their members for strikes, which could include railway workers, university lecturers, firefighters, National Health Service staff and Royal Mail workers.

The Communication Workers Union, which represents postal workers, announced six more days of strikes in a dispute over pay and changes to working patterns in the run-up to Christmas, upending the busiest part of the year for deliveries.

Updated: November 18, 2022, 10:13 PM