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Talks to Sack Striking Border Staff

UK Border Agency Official Checking PassportCulture, media and sport secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that ministers have talked about introducing employment laws that would allow them to fire UK Border Agency workers who plan to strike on Thursday, the day before the official opening of the Olympic Games. He says the option hasn’t been ruled out as thousands of border officers at the Home Office have announced a 24-hour walkout in a dispute over pay, jobs and other matters.

The strike will involve workers from the Home Office – including the UK Border Agency, Criminal Records Bureau, and Identity and Passport Service. Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union, which is behind the row and strike, says a work to rule and ban on overtime may have a big impact on border controls and passport offices due to the amount of overtime worked.

The union’s dispute is with plans to sack 8,500 staff, the threat of compulsory redundancies at the Newport passport office, alleged victimisation of representatives, privatisation of services, and pay rises being capped at 1% after a two-year freeze on wages.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka says that he still hopes the stoppage will be avoided. A strike is a last resort following the government refusing to engage with their complaints. These demands aren’t about personal gain. They are about defending important services, ensuring people still have a chance to work throughout the whole year and defending the nation’s security, he added.

Hunt made his comments on the matter in a response to a question from BBC presenter Garry Richardson. The presenter said that it’s great contingency plans have been put in place and that they have been able to get people in and to train them to man passport check desks. But why not just let those people go on strike, and then tell them their job isn’t there anymore when they return from causing disruption?, he asked. Rchardson’s remarks sparked anger among listeners, with some taking to Twitter to express their disapproval.

Hunt responded that sacking the staff was the Ronald Reagan approach. This was a reference to the former US president who dismissed over 11,000 air traffic controllers for putting the nation’s safety in danger. Hunt said that ministers have been asking if that should be done, but he doesn’t want to escalate the situation by talking about it. He knows that, among the 600 workers, there are many who want to do the right thing and go to work.

This follows speculation at the weekend that Chancellor George Osborne is developing a plan to introduce new laws that would make it harder for workers to go on strike. The chancellor has been pushing for urgent legislation to impose a minimum turnout on strike ballots – maybe 40% – so the economy is protected. However, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Lib Dem ministers warn that such a move will be counter-productive in the end.

Among senior Tory figures, London Mayor Boris Johnson is pushing the government to introduce a minimum vote threshold for strike ballots. There have also been other proposals – like setting basic requirements for public services during walkouts by transport, border control, education and hospital staff.

 

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