Border Force staff to stage another strike at Heathrow

More than 500 PCS members in Border Force will walk out later this month in a dispute over changes to shift patterns
A sign on the picket line of the April Border Force strike at Heathrow. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Joseph Williams

21 May 2024

Border Force staff at Heathrow will take a further three days of strike action in a dispute over a new fixed roster. 

The strikes involving staff at Heathrow terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5 will run from 31 May to 2 June. This will be followed by work to rule and a ban on overtime for three weeks. 

The walkout follows four days of strike action that took place from 29 April to 3 May involving 300 members of the PCS union. Members overwhelmingly backed strikes over changes to shift patterns – which PCS has called “unworkable” – in a spring ballot.

The union had previously planned strikes for 11-14 April, but suspended the action shortly beforehand “in a spirit of collaboration” after the Home Office sought “clarification” on a strike notice.

PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote said at the time: “This does not end the dispute. It is an opportunity for the Home Office to demonstrate they are genuinely seeking a resolution.” 

In its public statements about the dispute, the Home Office has said it is “disappointed” about the strikes and said it is “open to discussing a resolution”. 

But today PCS told CSW that there has been no progress towards resolving the dispute.  

Announcing the upcoming strike dates, the union said there has been “no consideration of the impact of the new roster on staff, nor has the employer come back with any proposed changes”.

“It was only following the threat of further strike action that the Home Office has only just indicated they are willing to meet,” the union said.  

Strike action began In March when civil servants working across Border Force voted by 90% in favour of strike action and 94% for action short of a strike in the PCS ballot. 

PCS said that its members are “angry at planned alterations to their shift patterns [that] 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." 

Lack of flexibility in the new roster will make it harder for officials to swap shifts. This will also see staff move to the annualised hours allowance system (AHA), where employees get an extra allowance in exchange for the employer having control over when hours are worked and having the flexibility to change shifts at short notice.  

The previous system meant officials couldn’t be forced to do overtime or work two hours over their rostered hours. Staff could also work shorter shifts across five days instead of the four-day week with longer shifts that AHA workers regularly work. 

The Home Office has said  the changes “will bring the working arrangements for Border Force Heathrow staff in line with the way staff work at all other major ports, provide them with more certainty on working patterns and improve the service to the travelling public.” 

Heathcote has said “None of our dedicated and highly experienced members in the Border Force want to take strike action but the way they’ve been treated by their employer leaves them with no option.” 

The announcement comes shortly after the High Court granted PCS permission to pursue a judicial review of anti-strike legislation in the Border Force.

Regulations that came into force in December under the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 enable certain employers to compel specific staff to work during strike action and sack those who do not comply. PCS is challenging the use of the legislation within Border Force, which it says is an attempt to ban staff from staging effective strike action.

The Home Office has said the legislation “ensure[s] an appropriate balance between the right to strike while protecting our borders and mitigating disruption”.

A substantive hearing will take place later this year.

Commenting on the announcement of the planned strikes, a Home Office spokesperson said: "We are disappointed with the union's decision to strike but remain open to discussing a resolution with PCS union.

"The changes we are implementing will bring the working arrangements for Border Force Heathrow staff in line with the way staff work at all other major ports, provide them with more certainty on working patterns, and improve the service to the travelling public.

"We have robust plans in place to minimise disruption where possible, but we urge passengers to check the latest advice from operators before they travel."

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