Olympic Hurdle: U.K. Border Staff Plan to Strike the Eve Before the Olympics

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Charlie Riedel / AP

Airport police keep patrol at an arrival terminal at Heathrow Airport as London prepares for the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 18, 2012.

When it comes to travel snafus in the lead up to the Olympic Games, a saying springs to mind: if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Just days after London officials granted working bonuses for the city’s bus drivers in order to prevent them from striking, another group of government employees is threatening to walk off the job. According to the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, thousands of border agency and passport officials are planning a 24-hour strike the day before the Olympics opening ceremonies is scheduled. The union said that 57.2% of their members voted in support of a strike. That same day, July 26, thousands of tourists and visitors are set to arrive at London airports and they could be facing chaos.

Complaints and critiques over wait times and lines at London’s airports have abounded for months now, largely due to a combination of Border Agency staff cuts and more rigorous checks on passports. Yet UK and Olympic authorities were quick to assure that the problem would be resolved in time for the Olympic Games, as they were planning on increasing the number of employees on duty at all times in the last weeks of July and throughout August.

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But not all of the Border Agency was happy with the plan. “We believe [the government ministers] have acted recklessly and irresponsibly in cutting so many jobs,” said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka in a statement, “and, in the case of UKBA (UK Border Agency), they have simply tried to paper over the cracks by deploying severely under-trained staff at our borders.”

PCS has also suggested that they are planning further action throughout the Olympics.

Immigration Minister Damien Green told the BBC that the push to strike is the work of  “a small group in the union leadership that is behaving disgracefully,” pointing out that seven out of eight PCS members didn’t vote for the strike. And even PCS reported that there was only 20% turnout for the vote on strike action.

While Home Secretary Theresa May called the decision to strike “shameful,” she was also quick to reassure that the government would “put contingency arrangements in place to ensure we can deal with people coming through the border.”

Yet that show of confidence might begin to waiver if, or rather, when, the next Olympics-related travel dilemma springs up.

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