UK Border Agency Employees Plan Strike before Olympics Games Commences

The UK Border Agency (UKBA), the UK government’s border control authority and a part of the Home Office, has reported industrial action by staff, which may lead to further delays at immigration counters before the Olympic games commence.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, which are employed by the Home Office, have announced a strike on July 26, 2012, due to a long-running disagreement over issues that include job cuts, reimbursement and privatisation.

The industrial action will affect London Heathrow Airport in particular, as the airport is the entry point for around 90 percent of international visitors flying into the city for the 2012 Olympic Games. Around 105,000 passengers are expected to arrive at the airport on July 23, 2012, while July 26, 2012, a day before the commencement of the Olympics Games, is the day that most arrivals are expected.

In a statement, BAA Ltd, owner and operator of six British airports including Heathrow, said, ‘We want all our passengers to have a smooth, secure and enjoyable experience at Heathrow, and so far the Olympic roster introduced by the Home Office is having the desired effect, with immigration waiting times well within their targets. We hope this will continue through the strike action.’

PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said, ‘The lives of staff have been made intolerable by these cuts and they’re at breaking point.

Ministers have known about these issues for a very long time and need to act now to sort out the chaos they have caused.

They’re acting recklessly in cutting so many jobs and privatising services, and are provocatively refusing to talk to us with a genuine desire to reach an agreement.’

 

Immigration Minister Pledges More Heathrow Immigration Staff

The much-reported lengthy queues at London’s Heathrow immigration desks have caused the government to announce an increase in staff numbers to be made available at the airport.

It fell to immigration minister, Damian Green, to inform the UK parliament that the government’s original plan, which was to recruit 70 Border Force staff at the airport to be in place after the Olympic Games end in August, had been brought forward.

In making the announcement to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Green said, ‘The queue levels we’ve seen at some times of the day, particularly at Heathrow and Stansted, are not acceptable. That’s why we have taken the measures we have already taken and we will take more measures. This is a problem we need to continue gripping. We are taking practical steps to address the issue of queues but at the same time the first priority has to be the security of our border.’

Other interested parties that addressed the committee included Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, the owner and operator of Heathrow and Stansted Airports, and representatives of major airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

Speaking of the delays through Heathrow, Matthews said that they had, ‘got worse since the summer of 2010,’ adding, ‘It has been more noticed and commented on in recent months, But it has deteriorated since summer 2010. We can detect some improvement in last week or so. I believe that it’s because of the additional resources that have been made available.’

British MPs Warn of Airport Gridlock during London Olympics 2012

Members of Britain’s Parliament have warned of a possible gridlock of British Airports during the London Olympic Games, which commence in July this year.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons is warning of overcrowding at UK airports during the London Olympic Games. Two members of the committee, Therese Coffey and Gerry Sutcliffe, are said to have attended a BAA (operator of six British Airports) briefing where the company expressed its concerns over handling the departure of international athletes after the closing ceremony.

The members of parliament have claimed that while much has been done for accommodating ‘unusual sporting equipment, arranging special lanes for the Olympic family, and welcoming arrangements for competitors and Olympic ambassadors’, there still exists an issue of dealing with long queues at the airport immigration desks.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA), the agency responsible for passport control counters at UK airports, has, in recent times, reduced its task force by around 25 percent, and the MPs are concerned that this could result in a negative impact on Britain’s tourism industry, as visitors may be discouraged from visiting the UK due to long queues at the airport, leading to delayed flights and overcrowding at the terminals.

The members have also felt an acute absence of any kind of contingency plan to deal with airport overcrowding, and hence gridlock remains a heightened possibility.

A letter to culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, signed by committee chairman, John Whittingdale, said, ‘We are aware that our sister committees, on Transport, and Home Affairs, have a strong interest in these issues and, may raise them with the relevant departments before the start of the Games. However, we wished to draw our concerns to your attention, as Minister with overall responsibly for the success of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.’