Strikes at Manchester Airport: Border Force walk out for eight days in industrial dispute over festive period

The strike is part of a dispute over pay, pensions and job security - but could see some long waiting times at Manchester Airport on these dates during the busy Christmas and New Year period.

Border Force guards at Manchester Airport were on strike over Christmas in a dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions whichit was feared would leave passengers travelling over the festive period facing severe delays and disruption. Eight days of industrial action took place at Manchester and airports around the country from 23 December to New Year’s Eve (31 December).

The action involves staff working in the passport booths at the travel hub and has been called by the PCS trade union. Manchester Airport has urged the union and the Government to get around the table to find a resolution, while also giving advice to passengers.

The travel hub has also now said that it does not expect to be hit with mass flight cancellations, although it has admitted there could well be delays at the border. And the relatively-smooth running of the border on the first few days of strike action has led to the union hitting out about exactly what powers the military personnel drafted in have to detain people.

Around five million UK holidaymakers are expected to take a foreign trip over the Christmas and New Year period and Friday 23 December - the first day of the strikes - has been predicted to be the busiest day for travel according to travel body, Abta. Manchester Airport is expecting its busiest December for three years, with more than 1.7m passengers expected to travel through this month.

When are the strike dates at Manchester Airport and why is it happening?

Manchester was one of six airports in the country, along with a ferry port, where Border Force guards were on strike. The industrial action started on 23 December and also took place on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, 28 December, 29 December, 30 December and New Year’s Eve.

They are in dispute with the Home Office, which is their employer. PCS members in hundreds of government departments and other trade bodies have voted for strike action over a 10% pay rise, the situation regarding their pensions, job security and a demand for no cuts to redundancy terms, the trade union said.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The government can stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts money on the table. Like so many workers, our members are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. They are desperate. They are being told there is no money for them, while they watch ministers giving out government contracts worth billions of pounds to their mates.

“Some sections of the media have accused us of playing politics with these strikes. Let me be clear: our dispute is with the employer. We will fight to improve our members’ pay, terms and conditions regardless of who is in Downing Street.”

Manchester Airport could see severe disruption over the festive period as passport booths staff are planning to strike. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The trade union has also hit out about the use of military personnel during the strike days, saying things had gone more smoothly than expected over the first few days of strike action because those who have been drafted in cannot actually detain people on their way in to the country.

Mr Serwotka said: “The government has boasted there are no queues at passport control, but of course there are no queues if no-one’s being stopped. “And no-one’s being stopped because the government has adopted a sticking plaster approach to this problem.

“We warned before the strikes started that military personnel with five days’ training wouldn’t be able to do the jobs of experienced, professional Border Force officers.”

What has Manchester Airport said about flight cancellations?

The airport is urging the employer and the trade union to do everything it can to prevent strike action. It initially said that it was expecting that flights would have to be cancelled, but has now said it does not expect that to be the case.

A Manchester Airport spokesperson said: “Following the announcement of industrial action by UK Border Force (UKBF) staff at several UK airports - including Manchester - we have been working closely with the Home Office and others to understand the impact this will have, minimise disruption to our operation and support the safety and wellbeing of colleagues and passengers.

“The industrial action takes place on 23, 24, 25, 26 and 28, 29, 30 and 31 December, during which time we will continue to operate our full flight schedule. We do not anticipate the need for cancellations and passengers do not need to change their travel plans, unless advised otherwise by their airline.

“There is a likelihood that waiting times at the border will be – at times – longer than usual on these days, and we will provide whatever support we can to ensure passengers’ arrival back into Manchester is as smooth as possible.

The airport is now expecting passengers to experience some delays and longer queues than usual, but is confident that it will be able to run its scheduled timetable.

In an update statement on Monday 19 December, an airport spokesperson said: “Following the announcement of industrial action by UK Border Force (UKBF) staff at several UK airports - including Manchester - we have been working closely with the Home Office and others to understand the impact this will have, minimise disruption to our operation and support the safety and wellbeing of colleagues and passengers.

“The industrial action takes place on 23, 24, 25, 26 and 28, 29, 30 and 31 December, during which time we will continue to operate our full flight schedule. We do not anticipate the need for cancellations and passengers do not need to change their travel plans, unless advised otherwise by their airline.

“There is a likelihood that waiting times at the border will be – at times – longer than usual on these days, and we will provide whatever support we can to ensure passengers’ arrival back into Manchester is as smooth as possible.”

For our full guide on when to check in, daily queue updates and how to get through security more smoothly, see here.

What has the Government said? What are passengers’ rights to compensation during strikes?

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the union’s decision to strike and the inconvenience this will cause to the public and businesses.

“We are working closely with all UK ports and airports to ensure we have robust plans in place to minimise any delays if strike action goes ahead, however passengers should be prepared for potential disruption. We will deploy suitable resource to meet critical demand and support the flow of passengers and goods through our border.

“We always recommend that passengers check the latest advice from their operators before travelling.”

Responding to the PCS’ comments about people being waved through the border, the Home Office said it had developed what it called “robust contingency plans” to keep the borders secure, with Border Force staff not on strike working alongside the military.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also said travellers should be given food, drinks and overnight accommodation as required if flights are delayed or cancelled, but it warned customers are unlikely to be entitled to compensation.

CAA consumer director Paul Smith said: “We anticipate UK Border Force strikes may lead to longer queues and wait times than normal when arriving at the UK border, as well as possible flight disruption. In the event of delays and cancellations, airlines have an obligation to look after their passengers.

“Where a flight is cancelled, airlines also have an obligation to help passengers find an alternative flight or to provide a refund, although, given the circumstances, passengers may be unable to get to their destinations as quickly as we or airlines would like. We expect airlines to do what they can to minimise the overall disruption to passengers, and this includes proactively providing passengers with updates and information about their rights when flights are disrupted.

“Border Force strikes are outside of the control of airlines so it is unlikely that customers will be entitled to compensation for any delays and cancellations arising from these strikes.”

The Royal Navy, Army, and Royal Air Force have been called in to help at Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports.