Saturday, February 4, 2023

When are UK Border Force strikes? Full list of strike dates, affected airports and likely disruption

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UK Border Force staff are kicking off the second in a series of strikes at airports across the country.

The industrial action will see more than 1,000 union members, including passport control workers, walk out from 28-31 December.

The initial strike action – conducted by members of The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) union –  began over the Christmas period from 23-26 December, but reportedly caused minimal disruption.

As it continues, travellers should still prepare for potential delayed security checks, lengthy queues and knock-on disruption

When are UK Border Force officers on strike?

The strikes coincide with the busiest travel days of the festive season.

Officers went on strike all day on December 23, 24 and 25, and until 7am on December 26.

The next strikes begin on December 28, running until 7am on the last day of the year, December 31.

Union leaders have warned that further strike action is possible if the government fails to negotiate a pay deal.

Where in the UK could be the worst affected?

Larger airports which endured severe disruptions over the summer are likely to be worst impacted. 

Passport checks at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Birmingham will be affected, according to the PCS union. Passengers at all other UK airports are, at present, unlikely to be impacted. 

Heathrow is expected to be the worst hit. The airport 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”. Passengers who are not eligible to use eGates should prepare for longer wait times at Border Control.

Will airports have to close?

Border Force boss Steve Dann has said they are working to keep “most, if not all” ports open.

Separate strike action has closed three small airports in Scotland – Barra, Benbecula amd Sumburgh airports.

Cold weather is also a threat to journeys, with thousands of passengers stranded at Keflavik airport in Iceland earlier this month when the only access road was closed due to ice.

“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.

Border Force strikes will affect Heathrow terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Will there be queues at Gatwick airport?

Gatwick has said in a statement that it expects flights to operate as usual during the strikes. It is advising passengers to check the status of their flights and for those with a connection at the airport to allow extra time for their onward journey. 

Will there be queues at Manchester airport?

At Manchester Airport, 200 new security staff are being recruited, but won’t start work until April 2023. The airport has said it expects it will be necessary for airlines to cancel some services on strike days but it is working with them to ensure passengers are given as much notice as possible.    

Border force staff at the port of Newhaven, East Sussex were also included in the PCS announcement setting out locations of strikes.

Will ferry ports be affected by strikes?

Workers at British ports like Dover, Plymouth and Portsmouth have not said if they will be taking part. Neither have staff at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Folkestone. 

British Border Force staff who operate out of the French port of Calais and Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord in Paris also haven’t said if they will be involved in the walkout. 

Eurostar staff were due to strike but that has now been called off while negotiations continue.

How will travellers be impacted by the UK border force strikes?

More than 10,000 flights carrying up to 2 million passengers are expected to arrive at the affected airports between December 23 and 31, according to aviation analytics company Cirium. 

“While we are working closely with all UK ports and airports and have robust plans in place to minimise any delays if strike action goes ahead, passengers should be prepared for their plans to be severely disrupted,” UK Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said in a statement.

Will it be arrivals or departures that will be most affected?

The government that it will be “travellers due to arrive in the UK” who should “expect delays and disruption over the strike action.”

However, during previous strikes there has been a knock-on effect for inbound travellers too as airports struggle to cope with passenger volumes.

Passengers may be kept on arriving planes to try and stop terminals getting overcrowded with people waiting to get their passports checked.

Arriving passengers with British, EU, US, Canadian and some other passports will be able to use the e-gates as normal. 

“We are doing everything we can to protect a full flight schedule on strike days,” the airport said. Passengers have been advised to check their flight status before travelling. 

Jet2 operates out of three affected airports – Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. CEO Steve Heapy said the airline “very much intends” to operate its full schedule of Christmas and new year flights – including the dates when strike action is taking place. 

“Our customers have worked hard to make precious holiday plans, including seeing family and friends, over the festive period,” he said in a statement.  

“Our teams will work tirelessly to make sure we fly everyone to and from their destinations so that they can enjoy those well-deserved holidays.”

EasyJet has also said it plans to run its flight schedule as expected.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said that the airline was aware of planned strike action and will “continue to work closely with government and industry to support contingency planning and minimise disruption.”

“Our customers’ journeys over the festive period are our priority and we’re focused on supporting their travel plans, keeping them updated on any potential disruption at the border.”

How is the government planning to reduce disruption?

The government say they have undertaken “extensive planning” to minimise disruption.

They say a variety of public servants will be stepping into the shoes of Border Force officers. “Thousands of people, including civil servants and military personnel are ready to support Border Force over this period, many of whom are sacrificing their Christmases to ensure passenger’s travel plans are protected and they get to where they want to be this Christmas.”

But the head of the armed forces has said that they should not be thought of as “spare capacity” for striking workers. 

“We’re busy and we’re doing lots of things on behalf of the nation – we’ve got to focus on our primary role,” chief of defence staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin told the Sunday Telegraph.

Is there a danger of problems with passport checks?

Steve Dann has insisted that safety and security at borders will be “non-negotiable” during strike action.

However unions have warned that military personnel are not properly qualified to carry out these jobs. PCS said that Border Force members “are specialists in their fields and can’t be replaced by people with just days of training.”

Why are border force officials striking?

The strike is part of a larger coordinated action by thousands of civil servants. 100,000 PCS members in 214 government departments and other public bodies voted to take action

Members are demanding a 10 per cent pay rise, citing eye-watering inflation of 10.6 per cent. 

Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, said that the strike would cause ‘significant disruption’ – but added that the cost of living crisis has left workers  “desperate” with no choice but to strike.

“We have no option but to take industrial action because our members are using food banks and not able to switch on the heating right now,” he said.

“The government can stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts money on the table.”

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