Border Force strikes could be extended to Port of Dover within weeks

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Border Force strikes could be extended to Dover and other ports within weeks, under plans discussed by a union to intensify walkouts in an ongoing dispute over pay, pensions and job security.

Until now, the eight days of industrial action coordinated over Christmas by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have largely been limited to airports, save for the port of Newhaven in Sussex.

Those strikes saw more than 1,000 Home Office employees walk out of their passport control roles across six airports, including Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick – prompting ministers to call in the military in an attempt to plug the resulting gaps.

But internal discussions have recently been taking place at PCS about extending the Border Force strikes to Dover and other ports in England’s South East.

“We have a six-month mandate for action, so all that needs to happen at Dover and elsewhere is we must give the employer two weeks’ notice,” a union spokesperson told The Guardian, which first reported the discussions.

Around 100,000 employees across 214 government departments and other bodies voted for the industrial action coordinated by PCS, with the Border Force strikes going ahead after a 2 per cent pay offer was rejected – falling considerably short of the 10 per cent demanded by “desperate” staff.

Just days ago, the union’s secretary general Mark Serwotka warned it was “inevitable” that previously unaffected areas such as the Port of Dover will be hit by industrial action if the government refuses to negotiate.

Mr Serwotka threatened in the immediate wake of the ballot for action in November that strikes would aim to impose “maximum pressure”, telling The Independent that walkouts by PCS members at Dover would cause “extraordinary disruption to traffic that goes through” the UK’s busiest ferry port.

Some 2,000 PCS members are reportedly employed in ports of entry in the South East, and further strikes there could impact imports, customs, travel and immigration.

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

“We have comprehensive contingency plans in place and continue to work closely with partners and industry to manage its impact, whilst ensuring we can continue to deliver vital services to the public.”

The government previously described having “robust contingency plans which prioritise keeping our citizens safe and our borders secure” at passport control booths during last month’s strikes, after it emerged that the soldiers drafted in to help lacked the power to detain people for questioning.

While the Home Office argued that there were enough remaining Border Force staff to assist in such situations, leaked figures suggested just nine people were stopped and held at passport control during three strike days at Heathrow – a drop of 95 per cent on the previous year – although more were detained at Manchester Airport than in 2021.

The Port of Dover has already seen significant disruption this year, notably during the main summer peak in July, after Brexit controls made the UK a “third country”, forcing officials to stamp every passport.

In November, the port’s boss Doug Bannister told MPs that tougher border checks which the UK helped develop while an EU member will come into force for British passport holders this year, potentially causing “significant and continued disruption for a very long time”.