Passport and train workers set to strike on eve of event

Fri, Jul 20, 2012, 01:00

THOUSANDS OF passport control officers are to go on strike in Britain on the eve of the Olympics, while train drivers have voted for three days of strikes in early August.

The strike decisions come as the latest blows to the games, following the controversy over security in the wake of the failure of G4S to supply thousands of promised staff.

The move by the Public Commercial Services union (PCS), one of the most vocal unions against public spending cuts, infuriated home secretary Theresa May.

“I think it is shameful, frankly,” she said.

Just 3,200 of the PCS members working in the home office and the UK Border Agency voted in the ballot, with just 1,750 of them voting for a strike next Thursday.

Passport officers have complained for months about job losses, saying it was putting intolerable pressure on staff and causing long delays for international passengers.

Pledging to cut two-hour delays at Heathrow, the home office has guaranteed that all passport desks would be manned at Heathrow during the games.

The home office’s actions are seeking “severely undertrained staff” to do “crucially important work” and failing, said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

“They have made the dispute about the Olympics with the way they have gone about using temporary staff so they can staff all the desks during the games,” the union said yesterday.

Up to 120,000 international passengers are expected at Heathrow and other British airports every day next week, many of them intending to visit Olympic events.

Even though PCS members make up about 5,000 out of 8,000 border force passport staff, the home secretary insisted the gaps would be filled. But she did not say how.

Meanwhile, Aslef, the union representing train drivers and operators, has announced its East Midlands line member will strike for three days from August 6th.

Negotiations have been under way for months between the company and the union about the company’s plans to reduce pension contributions.

East Midlands wants to cut its contribution by £750 per head annually, leading to a fall of £500 in the employee’s contribution. But Aslef warns that it “is storing up trouble” for the future.

The company has the franchise to run services between London and Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby, East Midlands Parkway and trains to Leicester. But Aslef said it may not hold on to its licence when the franchise next comes up for auction.

“Our members (then) face the prospect of either cripplingly high contribution rates or reduced benefits due to a short-term cost-cutting decision [that] has left the scheme in deficit,” it said.

Secretary of state for transport, Justine Greening said: “If there were an Olympic sport of self-interest, Aslef union leaders would win it hands down.”

Seizing on Aslef’s £100,000 (€128,000) contribution to the Labour Party since Ed Miliband became leader, she added: “ needs to get a grip on his union paymasters.”

Meanwhile, signalling faults on the London Tube yesterday caused serious delays on the Circle, District and Hammersmith and City lines.