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Heathrow Border Force strike: What does it mean for your flight?

Simon Calder’s Travel

Hundreds of UK Border Force officers at Heathrow airport plan to strike for four days over what their union calls “an unworkable new roster system”.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has called the walk-out of members working for UK Border Force over new rosters that it claims “would see around 250 of them forced out of their jobs at passport control”.

Members voted by a margin of 9-1 in favour of industrial action over the issue.

The stoppage, involving more than 300 PCS members, is scheduled for 29 April to 2 May. It will involve UK Border Force offices working on passport control in all four Heathrow terminals.

These are the key questions and answers.

What is the dispute about?

At the root of the dispute is a controversial new rostering system.

The PCS union says planned alterations to shift patterns “would have a detrimental effect on all the current staff and leave nearly 250 without a job on passport control, including many with disabilities or caring responsibilities”.

The union says: “If they refuse to accept the new contracts, they would be forced to seek jobs elsewhere in the Home Office.”

Wasn’t a similar strike called off?

Yes. In late March the PCS union told the Home Office it had called a strike from 11 to 14 April, at the end of the school holidays for many families. But in what the union called “a spirit of collaboration”, the PCS called off the walk-out a week before it was due to start.

At the time the union’s general secretary, Fran Heathcote, warned: “This does not end the dispute. It is an opportunity for the Home Office to demonstrate they are genuinely seeking a resolution.”

But she later called the new strike, saying: “The Home Office should be doing all it can to retain experienced, trained staff – not lose them by introducing an unworkable new roster system.”

What are the possible effects?

Since UK Border Force staff routinely check only arrivals at airports, rather than departures, the initial impact of the walk-out will be on people landing from abroad at Britain’s busiest airport.

But no one can predict exactly what will happen – especially when flights arrive containing a substantial proportion of passengers who need to be examined by officials.

Were large numbers to build up in the immigration hall of one or more terminals, it is conceivable that airlines would be…

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