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A strike by Border Agency staff on the eve of the Olympics has been called off, sparing likely disruption at Heathrow airport and travel hubs around the UK on Thursday, after the Public and Commercial Services union claimed the government had performed an about-turn on job cuts.
Home Office members of the UK’s largest civil services union were preparing to stage a one-day strike the day before Friday’s opening ceremony, hitting services at immigration control as well as the passport service and the Criminal Records Bureau.
Speaking one hour before the government was due to launch a high court challenge against the looming strike, the PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said a Home Office decision to hire 1,100 staff – including 800 border employees – had convinced the union to cancel its plans. “We believe that significant progress means that there is no case for the union to proceed with industrial action tomorrow,” he said.
The PCS said the job adverts went a long way to clawing back Border Agency job cuts over the past two years, which were one of the key factors in the dispute. The 1,100 new jobs include a planned 300 extra staff at the Passport Service, the PCS said.
A work-to-rule campaign during the Games has also been shelved, the union said. Heathrow was expecting one of its busiest ever days on Thursday and the airport has, so far, had a smooth run-up to the Games.
Serwotka denied that the Home Office recruitment drive had given the PCS an opportunity to avoid action amid concerted political criticism of the strikes. The PCS only became aware of the 800 new border jobs when they were advertised on Friday, Serwotka said. “By any definition this is a significant development.”
Recruitment adverts were placed on websites this morning for the jobs in areas including Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports, said the union.
Asked if he regretted calling strikes on the cusp of the Games, Serwotka, whose union represents just under 16,000 Home Office employees, said: “Absolutely no regrets.”
The union said the government’s legal challenge was based on a claim that 12 staff in Paris and Brussels were involved in the dispute when they were not covered by the issues.
The PCS said its members had been subjected to “disgraceful” attacks from government ministers since the announcement last week of the strike. The home secretary, Theresa May, had described the planned walkout as “opportunist and wholly unjustified”.
A spokeswoman for airports operator BAA said on Wednesday: “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.”