Border Force strike: cover staff report getting just two days’ training

Exclusive: Some NCA staff in Calais say they had little official training before being put to work at passport control

Civil servants covering for striking Border Force staff received just two days’ training before taking up their posts, the Guardian understands.

During the first set of strikes in December, members of the armed services and staff from Whitehall received between five and seven days of training before being asked to check on crimes such as carrying a false passport, drug smuggling, people trafficking and modern slavery.

Border Force guards are usually given three weeks of training as a minimum before they interact with the public. After the three weeks, they are given a mentor to work alongside for up to a month to ensure they can work solo on a passport desk.

But some National Crime Agency (NCA) staff who are working in Calais received just two days of official training before being put to work at passport control, it was claimed.

One informed source said: “Staff from NCA have been brought in to cover strikers in Calais. Two days of training and a quick familiarisation visit on Tuesday and then protecting the borders on Wednesday.”

The Home Office said it was “completely untrue” to suggest that contingency staff had not had sufficient training to maintain the security of the UK.

But it remains unclear whether NCA staff were authorised to detain people they suspected of a crime because they had not received training to issue an IS81 form, sources said. An IS81 gives immigration officers the authority to detain people while they carry out further inquiries, according to Home Office documents. It has to be issued even if someone is detained for just two minutes for a minor check.

Military staff covering for striking personnel at passport control do not have the power to detain people they suspect of criminal activity, leaked documents show. Instead, a separate intervention has to be sought for suspected serious criminals or their victims from a fully trained Border Force officer, most of whom are currently on strike.

A representative of the PCS union, which represents Border Force staff, said the border was not safe with untrained staff. “We need to ask if these people are making the necessary checks or if they are vulnerable to organised criminals who know how to exploit vulnerabilities.”

Major airports hit by the strike on Wednesday reported that they were working smoothly. “Heathrow is fully operational, passengers are flowing through the border smoothly with Border Force and the military contingency providing a good level of service for arriving passengers,” a spokesperson for the airport said.

Evidence emerged in December that the number of people stopped plummeted while the armed forces and civil servants covered for striking Border Force guards. Figures leaked to the Guardian showed nine people were stopped at passport control and held at Heathrow over three strike days from 23-25 December, compared with 189 people over the same three days in 2021 – a 95% drop.

The PCS union has called out members for Wednesday’s mass action at UK ports, including Dover and Calais. More than 2,000 members are believed to have gone on strike in Kent and northern France.

As the cost of living crisis worsens, with inflation at nearly 11%, PCS members are demanding a 10% pay rise, a pensions deal, job security and no cuts in redundancy terms. The union has carried out sustained action in the Border Force, Rural Payments Agency, DVSA, DVLA, National Highways and DWP.

Asked to comment on staff working in Calais after two days of training, a Home Office spokesperson said: “All contingency staff deployed are sufficiently trained for the activities they are being required to undertake. Military aid to the civil authorities is a longstanding and established process which allows the specialist capabilities of the UK armed forces to be utilised to support civil authorities responding to a domestic emergency.

Later, the Home Office and the National Crime Agency denied that staff had received two days’ training.

A Home Office spokesperson added: “It is completely untrue to suggest that contingency staff have not had sufficient training to maintain the security of the UK border. Border Force will never compromise on security.”


Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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