Military personnel stood in for passport control staff at UK airports on Friday as Border Force officers walked out in an escalating wave of public sector strikes over pay.
Around a quarter of a million passengers were due to arrive at the six affected airports on Friday ahead of the busy Christmas holiday weekend.
But while passengers were warned they may face delays, Gatwick and Heathrow both insisted their immigration halls were operating as normal on Friday after the government drafted in armed forces’ personnel and civil servants.
Around 1,000 workers at Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester, and the southern port of Newhaven, took part in the stoppage organised by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS).
It is the first of eight planned between Friday and January 1, taking place every day for the rest of the year, except December 27.
It follows stoppages this week by nurses and ambulance workers, angered by the government’s refusal to increase pay following years of wage stagnation and a cost-of-living crisis that has left inflation running at nearly 11 per cent.
Nurses will strike again on January 18 and 19, the Royal College of Nursing announced on Friday.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said many Border Force employees were struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
“Forty thousand of our members are using food banks, 45,000 of them are claiming in-work benefits. They are the in-work poor,” he told BBC radio, adding that the dispute was also about pensions and job security.
– ‘Reduce inflation’ –
The past year has seen strike action in a range of sectors from dock workers to lawyers as decades-high inflation has eroded earnings.
The government insists on more modest increases for public sector workers, based on recommendations by independent pay review bodies, in order to bring inflation under control.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “sad and disappointed” the Border Force action had gone ahead but that the government would not give in to strikes.
“I think we all know that the major economic challenge we all face now is inflation. It’s inflation that’s eating into everyone’s pay packets… and I want to make sure that we reduce inflation,” he said.
Postal delivery staff belonging to the Communication Workers Union (CWU) also walked out on Friday for the fifth time this month.
National Highways workers responsible for motorways and major roads in London and southeast England, represented by the PCS, are also conducting their own four-day walkout which started on Thursday.
Railway workers will stage another strike from 6:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Saturday, Christmas Eve, lasting until early Tuesday.
Also on Saturday, some London bus workers and Environment Agency employees will also launch separate waves of action.
A second strike by ambulance staff planned for December 28, however, was on Friday suspended, the GMB union said.