A union leader has warned of six months of strike disruption by Border Force staff, as they and postal workers become the latest groups to walk out.
Mark Serwotka, the head of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents Border Force staff, said on Friday he expected rolling strikes to take their toll for months to come, with what he called a “huge escalation” in January.
His comments echo warnings by health unions that the government’s refusal to offer more pay this financial year would lead to industrial action lasting well into the new year.
Serwotka told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have a strike fund that means we can sustain this action after Christmas. The strike mandate lasts right up until May – we will be supporting this action until May and we would reballot again if we have to.”
He added: “Not only going to be six months, I think in January what you’ll see is huge escalation of this action, in the civil service and across the rest of our economy, unless the government get around the negotiating table.”
Passengers arriving into British airports on Friday were being warned to expect longer queues for immigration as a result of the Border Force strikes, although Heathrow said it was not cancelling any flights. About 1,000 workers are planning to walk out for the next week, affecting six of the country’s busiest airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff.
The government has drafted military personnel and civil servants to staff entry gates, and travellers are being urged to use electronic gates. Children under 12 cannot use these, however, putting families at highest risk of long delays.
Meanwhile, members of the Communication Workers Union have begun a two-day strike, which could disrupt the delivery of last-minute Christmas cards and presents.
On Friday morning the Royal College of Nursing is due to announce two more days of strikes next year as they try to push the government to improve its pay offer of £1,400 for NHS staff except dentists and doctors.
Ministers, however, insist they will not budge in their refusal to boost pay for 2022/2023, although officials have suggested accelerating the pay award process for the next financial year.
Senior Treasury officials told the Guardian they believed any change in this position would undermine the reputation for fiscal credibility that the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has prioritised in the wake of Liz Truss’s botched mini-budget.
Serwotka rebutted the government’s argument that higher public sector pay could fuel inflation, accusing ministers of driving people into in-work poverty.
“Forty thousand of our members are using food banks,” he said. “Forty-five thousand of them are claiming in work benefits, they are in work poor.
“We presented the government with a dossier where their own staff spoke to the government and told them that they were skipping meals; they didn’t put the lights on at home; they were terrified about what Christmas would bring.”
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