PCS union calls off pre-Olympics border staff strike

Damian Green: "I'm glad they have done it"

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A strike which threatened to disrupt immigration controls on the eve of the Olympics has been called off after progress in peace talks.

The PCS union had been planning the action in protest at job losses.

Ministers argued that "procedural errors" with the ballot meant it should not go ahead.

PCS leader Mark Serwotka said "major progress" had been made in talks, and 1,100 jobs will be created, but the government has denied this.

Immigration and passport workers at Heathrow and other airports had been among those due to take action on Thursday.

In a ballot earlier this month, 57% of PCS members taking part voted for industrial action - although ministers say only 12% of total union members participated.

About 16,000 union members were balloted across the Home Office, including in the Border Agency, the Identity and Passport Service and the Criminal Records Bureau.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "We are pleased that the PCS leadership has seen sense and called off this irresponsible strike which was not supported by the majority of members."

'Fig leaf'

The PCS says 8,500 Home Office jobs are at risk as a result of government cuts, including the threat of compulsory redundancies at passport control and immigration offices.

Mr Serwotka said: "We are not ending our dispute today. What we have done is not call action in the next few weeks."

He added: "These are professional frontline staff who want to be able to serve the public and have the resources to do so."

Mr Serwotka announced there there would now be "significant" investment in 1,100 permanent new jobs - 800 at the Border Agency and 300 in passport offices.

The PCS said recruitment adverts had been placed for the jobs at sites including Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports.

'Administrative error'

Mark Serwotka: "Real progress has been made with the Home Office over the union's concerns"

The Home Office later said there had been an "administrative error" in the advertisements and 400 posts in total were being offered.

A spokesman added the recruitment drive for additional staff, which began in May, was part of existing plans to restructure the Border Force.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said he understood the adverts for 800 jobs were placed but had not been "signed off" by ministers.

Mr Serwotka said the Home Office's claim it mistakenly advertised the jobs was "shambolic or a deliberate lie".

He added the adverts were posted "one day after we called a strike then dangled in front of staff to try to dissuade them from taking action" and said the jobs should be honoured.

'Good news'

Prior to the strike's cancellation, ministers had sought a High Court injunction to prevent the stoppages, saying there were "procedural errors" in the PCS's ballot, relating to 12 union members working in Brussels and Paris.

The union announced the cancellation around 45 minutes before the court hearing was due to begin.

Labour also opposed the strike, and shadow chancellor Ed Balls told the BBC: "This is good news. The Games are now the priority and let's hope they are a big success for Britain."

A spokeswoman for airports operator BAA said: "We welcome the decision by the PCS to call off tomorrow's strike.

"So far passengers arriving for the Olympics have had a smooth journey through Heathrow and it is great news that those arriving tomorrow can also expect a warm welcome to London and the Games."

Earlier this month, the government's spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, said the UK Border Agency had laid off 1,000 more staff than intended and was having to hire extra people and increase overtime to meet its workload.

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