Staff protecting Britain's borders will strike over Christmas, threatening chaos for travellers at airports.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services union, whose duties include checking passports of passengers arriving in the country, will join rail staff and highways workers in striking during the festive period. They will strike from December 23 to New Year’s Eve.
Airports affected include Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. The port of Newhaven will also be affected.
They are to strike in a row over pay, jobs and conditions, the PCS union announced. The union said members had been offered a pay rise of 2 per cent when inflation is above 11 per cent.
The union's general secretary, Mark Serwotka, called the situation a crisis, and said workers had been left no choice but to take action, which will have a major effect on people who use public services. He said 40,000 civil servants are using food banks.
He said: “PCS members come to me, sometimes in tears, saying they can't afford to put food on the table. Our action will escalate in the new year if the government doesn't come to the table.”
Mr Serwotka said anger over delays caused by the strikes should be directed at the government.
Hundreds of British troops are on standby to provide cover.
Some flights are likely to be cancelled, Manchester Airport reported, and the Airport Operators Association said that if the strikes cannot be averted, then “concrete and deliverable contingency measures” must be put in place.
The Business Travel Association said the “entire travel support system will once more be plunged into dealing with cancellations and disruptions”.
“Further strike action puts British workers’ Christmases at risk. Hard workers up and down the country will be stranded, struggling to get home,” said an association representative.
“The entire travel support system will once more be plunged into dealing with cancellations and disruptions rather than bookings with no financial recompense.
“We urge the government and unions to come together to ensure there aren’t unnecessary empty chairs at this year’s Christmas table.”
Gatwick Airport said there would be additional staff scheduled on strike days “to help with passenger welfare”.
“We are disappointed that Border Force staff have decided to take strike action at this particular time. We hope that a settlement to this dispute can be found as quickly as possible,” said an airport representative.
“We expect that flights will operate as normal and remain in regular contact with Border Force about their mitigation plans. Additional airport staff will also be made available to help with passenger welfare on strike days.”
“We are working closely with airlines and Border Force on mitigation plans for potential strike action by Border Force officers and these plans will now be implemented for the notified days,” said an airport representative.
“The Home Office advises that immigration and customs checks may take longer during peak times on strike days, and Heathrow will support Border Force to minimise these impacts with the aim of processing passengers through the border as efficiently as possible.
“Passengers are advised to check their flight status with their airline before travelling. We encourage all parties to resolve this dispute quickly.”
Manchester Airport said it would work with airlines to ensure passengers have as much advanced notice of cancelled services as possible and warned of “much longer immigration queues”.
“Unfortunately, we expect it will be necessary for airlines to cancel some services on the days impacted by strike action to ensure the number of arriving passengers aligns with lower UK Border Force resources,” said an airport representative.
“We will be working with our airlines to provide passengers with as much advance notice of cancelled services as possible, so that people have the chance to rebook their travel around the strike days.
“Arriving passengers should also be prepared for much longer immigration queues on strike days, owing to reduced Border Force staffing levels.”
An Airport Operators Association representative said: “UK airports have worked tirelessly to tackle several challenges since the reopening of international travel in order to provide a high level of service to passengers.
“The decision of Border Force staff to take industrial action is disappointing and we urge Border Force, the Home Office and all government departments to get back around the table to resolve these strikes before they begin or put in place concrete and deliverable contingency measures to keep the border operating smoothly.”
A Home Office representative said it was “disappointed” by the Public and Commercial Services union’s decision to strike, and said the government was working closely with all UK ports and airports to enact “robust plans” to minimise any delays.
However, it warned passengers to “be prepared for disruption”.
Earlier, Rishi Sunak promised “new tough laws” to curb the effects of industrial action as he criticised “unreasonable” union chiefs.
The prime minister vowed to “protect the lives and livelihoods” of the public from strike disruption and insisted the government has been reasonable in dealing with public sector pay demands.
At prime minister's Questions, he said: “Hard-working families right now in this country are facing challenges.
“The government has been reasonable. It’s accepted the recommendations of an independent pay review body, giving pay rises in many cases higher than the private sector.
“But if the union leaders continue to be unreasonable, then it is my duty to take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public.”
The new legislation Mr Sunak appeared to be referring to, the Minimum Service Levels Bill, was first promised in 2019 and is currently stalled in parliament.
Legislation has been put forward, but MPs have not yet begun debating it.
The prime minister is under pressure from Tory MPs to speed up the introduction of the laws, which would ensure that, even during the most disruptive strikes, a certain number of services would still run.