Travel warning for UK as Border Force union says strikes may drag 'well into summer'

Walkouts over the Christmas period saw hundreds of soldiers drafted in to check passports

A member of the military at passport control at Manchester airport during the strikes. PA
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A union representing Border Force workers has warned they have enough money to “sustain strike action well into the summer” after the UK government claimed their reserves were dwindling.

Industrial action from December 23 to New Year's Eve caused significant disruption to passengers at airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow over the Christmas period.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is locked in a dispute with ministers over pay, pensions, job security and redundancy terms. Mark Serwotka, head of the union, insisted it had enough cash to continue strikes for months, dismissing ministers’ suggestion that it would run out of cash.

His assertion will cause unease among travel operators wary of how strike action could affect travellers over the summer season.

Tens of thousands of people were affected by the walkouts over the festive period, which saw about 600 soldiers drafted in to check passports at airports.

“We are not running out of money,” Mr Serwotka told Times Radio. “Our strike fund is the biggest it’s been for eight years and we have taken steps to raise millions more pounds and we can sustain our strike action well into the summer.”

He called on ministers to “do what they’re elected to do which is to properly try to resolve these problems”.

“That means talking, not hiding,” he added.

The PCS union claims 52 per cent of its members have been worried about losing their home amid the cost-of-living crisis, with 40 per cent saying they have had to use credit to pay for essential items.

More than a third (37 per cent) of members are actively seeking employment outside the civil service, the union said.

It is calling for a 10 per cent pay rise for workers.

In the run up to the strikes at Christmas, military personnel, civil servants and volunteers were trained to check passports.

But leaked figures suggest Britain’s borders may have been less secure than usual during the strikes. Data obtained by The Guardian showed only nine people were stopped at passport control and held at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, over three strike days from December 23 to 25. This represented a 95 per cent drop from the 189 people held up at Heathrow during the same period in 2021.

Ministers denied the strikes caused a drop in border security.

But Mr Serwotka said the figures show “the military is no substitute for highly trained, experienced Border Force professionals who are trained to spot victims of people trafficking and those who are barred from entering the country.”

Updated: January 02, 2023, 1:17 PM