Europe

Threat of Christmas travel chaos amid Border Force strikes

Health secretary on impact of ambulance strikes amid pay dispute

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A fifth of Christmas holiday flights face the axe as staff at Border Force get ready to strike. The PCS union is due to announce today (December 7) strike dates for 15,000 Border Force, visa and passport staff this Christmas.

The Government has put hundreds of military personnel and civil servants on standby to fill gaps left by striking employees.

A strike by Border Force could lead to long queues at Britain’s airports with insufficient staff to meet demand.

Industry chiefs are warning flights may have to be cancelled to avoid unsafe queues at flight hubs.

There are fears the union will target the busy periods before and after Christmas when thousands head overseas or enter the UK to visit relatives for the festive season.

A senior aviation source told The Telegraph: “We may need to reduce the demand at ports and airports alike down to 70 per cent to 80 per cent of normal levels.”

An airport chief told the same publication Border Force has not given any indication as to what resources might be available or how many of their staff might be called out on strike.

They added: “What is concerning is that no matter what you do with the military personnel, they are never going to be as efficient as people who have done it for years.

“There is going to be some impact and there is concern we cannot keep people just flying into the country and waiting in halls in long queues.”

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The airport chief added: “We will have to make cancellations because there is no way of getting people through the border.”

Strike dates for the PCS union’s 15,000 Home Office staff will be announced by General Secretary Mark Serwotka at 3pm today.

A senior aviation source said: “We haven’t been given a lot of detail about the military resource but we know Border Force is rightly taking their contingency planning for any strikes very seriously.

“We are also well advanced in our own planning for a wide range of scenarios, just in case, but obviously we are hoping any impact will be toward the less serious end of the range.”

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A total of 100,000 PCS members voted for strike acrtion across 214 Government departments and other public bodies in November.

Strike dates for staff from the Driver and Vehicle Standard Agency, Rural Payment Agency, National Highways and Department for Work and Pensions have already been announced.

PCS members are set to strike over pay, pensions, jobs and redundancy terms.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said there is “still a question” over whether ambulance services will cover all emergency callouts during planned strikes.

Unions have said they will respond to life-threatening incidents – known as a category one call – when they strike on December 21 in a row over pay.

The GMB, Unison and Unite are co-ordinating industrial action across England and Wales after accusing the Government of ignoring pleas for a decent wage rise.

Mr Barclay said officials plan to meet on Thursday to discuss coverage of category two callouts – which cover heart attacks, strokes, epilepsy and burns.

But he said the indication from the trade unions is that conditions like heart attacks will be covered.

He told Times Radio: “We’ve got further talks with the officials tomorrow on what are called the derogations – which bits of the service that they will offer.

“They’ve said that they will continue to offer life-threatening service, so that’s the cat ones.

“There’s a question in terms of whether they will cover all the cat twos – those are the emergency responses to things like heart attacks and stroke – so it is hugely important that those are also covered.”

Strikes by workers across the UK in disputes over pay, pensions, jobs and conditions are set to escalate in the weeks up to Christmas and into January.

Communication Workers Union (CWU) members at Royal Mail who collect, sort and deliver parcels and letters to strike across the UK on Friday.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members on Network Rail and 14 train operators are due to start a 48-hour strike on December 13.

Further strike action is planned by CWU and RMT union members, among others, throughout this month.

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