Passengers are steeling themselves for further travel disruption across the UK as rail and Border Force staff launch a fresh wave of strikes affecting thousands heading home after Christmas.
Border Force staff at Britain’s largest airports, including those in passport control, resumed action over pay, jobs and working conditions on Wednesday. The 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are striking for four days until New Year’s Eve.
Civil servants were being called in to help military personal covering striking workers at airports including Heathrow and Gatwick in London, as well as Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester, and the port of Newhaven.
While previous Border Force strikes, which ran from 23 to 26 December, caused minimal disruption as they fell during a time of low passenger traffic, union leaders have warned the dispute could carry on for six months if the government refuses to negotiate.
Meanwhile, members of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) on Great Western Railway and West Midlands Trains joined a series of rolling strikes by the union at various operators that began on 23 December, striking from noon on Wednesday to 11.59am on Thursday.
West Midlands Trains said that none of its services would be running from Wednesday morning as a result of the TSSA strike.
The action adds to the chaos on the rail network, which was still struggling to recover from overrunning engineering work after the RMT strike between Christmas Eve and Tuesday morning.
The TSSA’s organising director, Nadine Rae, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was up to the government to shift its stance and avoid further chaos. “It’s the government that needs to shift this situation, and we really want them to. We know the disruption is frustrating for people.
“Things have not changed since before Christmas in terms of a deal; it’s still in the government’s gift to ensure the employers can freely negotiate and can put together a deal that’s acceptable to our members and affordable to employers.”
Driving examiners and rural payment officers have also been holding rolling strikes since 13 December, and are expected to continue their industrial action until 16 January.
Examiners at 71 driving test centres will strike for five days from Wednesday, as the PCS union calls for a 10% pay rise for striking staff, as well as improved job security and pensions. The union also wants protection of existing redundancy terms.
The PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said the examiners’ strike “could be called off tomorrow if Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt put some money on the table”.
Serwotka added: “Our members have been offered a pay rise of just 2% at a time when the cost of living crisis is above 10%. We know our action will cause widespread disruption and inconvenience to people in eastern England and the Midlands – hundreds of driving tests have been cancelled already in other parts of the country – but the government is to blame.”
However, the government has so far refused to meet pay demands that it describes as “unaffordable”, with Rishi Sunak previously arguing that pay rises risked fuelling inflation, which was at 10.7% in November. “Part of that is being responsible when it comes to setting public sector pay,” the prime minister said. “In the long term, it’s the right thing for the whole country that we beat inflation.”
Network Rail workers are set to resume strikes next week, just as people get back to work in the new year.
RMT union members will strike over pay and working conditions on 3 to 4 January, and again from 6 to 7 January.