Border Force strike: UK travellers warned to expect more disruption during February half term

Vehicles arrive at the Port of Dover, in Dover.
Vehicles arrive at the Port of Dover, in Dover.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
By Charlotte Elton  & Ruth Wright

Half-term holidays could be hit with disruption as UK Border Force workers plan to strike in an ongoing dispute over pay, jobs and working conditions. 

Around 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services at four UK ports will walk out from 17-20 February.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The blame for these strikes lies firmly at the feet of ministers who are refusing to put any money on the table". 

The union also warned that the industrial action is likely to affect people returning from their half-term holidays.

Where are Border Force strikes taking place?

The Public and Commercial Services union has announced that Border Force staff at the ports of Dover, Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk will be striking on 17, 18,19 and 20 February. 

"The strikes we have announced today in the Border Force will impact on people returning from their holidays during the half term period," said Serwotka. 

The Home Office has warned passengers to be prepared for disruption, keep up with the latest advice from travel operators and check how the strike could affect them. 

Last summer, holidaymakers faced hours-long delays at the Port of Dover because of slow border checks caused by staff shortages and new Brexit controls.

Since Britain left the European Union in 2020, UK travellers face stricter border checks when travelling to the continent. At Dover, they are performed on the English side of the channel by French staff.

Serwotka added that, while "untrained military personnel" has been brought in to replace striking workers in the UK, the government won't be able to do this in France. 

REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
Members of Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) attend a rally in Edinburgh, Scotland on 1 February.REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

How have Border Force strikes affected travel so far?

On 1 February, Border Force officers took part in a series of coordinated strikes involving teachers, civil servants and train drivers. Around half a million workers walked out.

During the Christmas Border Force strikes, passport checks at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Birmingham were affected. Border Force staff at the port of Newhaven, East Sussex, were also included in the strikes.

In response, the government drafted more than 800 military personnel and civil servants to staff entry gates.

Heathrow was challenged with recruiting and training up to 25,000 security-cleared staff before the festive period, a task the airport described as “a huge logistical challenge”. Passengers who were not eligible to use eGates faced longer wait times at Border Control.

At Manchester Airport, 200 new security staff are being recruited, but won't start work until April 2023.

More than 10,000 flights carrying up to 2 million passengers arrived at the affected airports during the strike period, according to aviation analytics company Cirium.

How might the government reduce disruption?

"Military personnel, civil servants and volunteers from across government are being trained to support Border Force at airports and ports across the UK in the event of potential strike action," the UK government said in a statement. 

"Border Force are ready to deploy resources to meet critical demand and support the flow of travellers and goods through the border, however, those entering the UK should be prepared for potential disruption." 

But the head of the armed forces said during previous strikes that they should not be thought of as "spare capacity" for striking workers. 

"We're busy and we're doing lots of things on behalf of the nation - we've got to focus on our primary role," chief of defence staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin told the Sunday Telegraph.

REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
People stand near an arrivals board which displays a message warning users of terminal 5 about industrial action by Border Force staff.REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Is there a danger of problems with passport checks?

Steve Dann has insisted that safety and security at borders will be "non-negotiable" during strike action.

However, unions have warned that military personnel are not properly qualified to carry out these jobs. PCS said that Border Force members "are specialists in their fields and can't be replaced by people with just days of training."

Why are border force officials striking?

The strike is part of a larger coordinated action by thousands of civil servants. 100,000 PCS members in 214 government departments and other public bodies voted to take action

Members are demanding a 10 per cent pay rise, citing eye-watering inflation of 10.6 per cent. 

Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, said that the strike would cause "significant disruption" - but added that the cost of living crisis has left workers "desperate" with no choice but to strike.

"We have no option but to take industrial action because our members are using food banks and not able to switch on the heating right now," he said.

"The government can stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts money on the table."