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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Saturday May 18, 2024
Saturday May 18, 2024

Heathrow strike alert: Border force walkout may disrupt flights

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Over 300 union members to strike at Heathrow from April 29 to May 2, potentially delaying passenger arrivals and departures.

In a significant move that could disrupt thousands of travellers, more than 300 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union at Heathrow Airport have declared a strike. The action, set from April 29 to May 2, centres on a contentious new rostering system proposed by the Home Office.

The PCS union claims the new system would lead to job losses for about 250 staff members at passport control, many of whom have disabilities or caregiving responsibilities. The overwhelming vote in favour of the strike underscores the deep discontent among the staff, with a 9-1 ratio supporting industrial action.

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The scheduled strike will affect all four terminals at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport. Typically, UK Border Force staff only handle incoming flights, meaning the primary impact will be on international arrivals. With potentially reduced staff to manage passport control, passengers might experience longer waiting times in immigration halls.

Previous strikes, such as those in December 2022, did not cause significant disruptions. However, the unpredictable nature of flight schedules and passenger loads could complicate the situation this time. There is a risk that overcrowding in terminals might lead airlines to delay flights to manage the flow of passengers better.

The Home Office has expressed disappointment over the union’s decision but remains open to negotiation. They argue that the new rostering system aligns Heathrow staff with other ports and offers more predictable work patterns.

In preparation for the strike, the Home Office plans to deploy military personnel and civil servant volunteers to fill in, as was done in past disruptions. While these measures might mitigate some immediate issues, the replacement staff won’t match the efficiency of trained Border Force officers.

Travellers affected by potential delays or cancellations won’t receive cash compensation, as the strike is considered beyond the airlines’ control. Nonetheless, airlines are obligated to provide alternative flights, meals, and accommodations if necessary.

As the strike approaches, the airport also faces another potential disruption. Fifty aircraft refuelers have announced a separate strike starting May 4, further complicating operations at Heathrow.

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