More than a million passport applications could be stuck in a bottleneck when passport office workers strike for five weeks as experts warn of a “summer of discontent”.
Holidaymakers have been urged to check their passport expiry dates to avoid the disruption which last year saw families miss out on holidays due to significant processing delays.
In a “significant escalation” of the dispute over jobs, pay and conditions, the Civil and Commercial Services (PCS) union said more than 1,000 members will walk out across seven offices in England, Wales and Scotland from April 3 to May 5 – an estimated 65 percent of the workforce. An eighth office in Belfast is likely to join the strike later.
The union says the strike will have a “significant impact” on the delivery of passports as the summer approaches. At peak times – including April – the passport office can receive 250,000 applications a week.
sources said The independent that passport offices are already seeing an increase in applications after the strikes were announced, with queues forming outside some buildings across England today, including in London.
Downing Street said ministers would work to “mitigate” the impact of strikes by passport office staff, but said there were no plans to change guidance that people should allow 10 weeks to get a passport.
Government sources claimed that there is currently no backlog of passport applications and that more than 97 percent of passports were processed within three weeks.
However, travel and tourism industry insiders say the strike will have a devastating effect on the UK economy due to lost sales and deals caused by the disruption.
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “Strikes at the passport office will have devastating consequences for business travel and the UK economy.
“These strikes will affect businesses across the UK resulting in lost sales and deals which will further damage the industry and the economy which has so far seen a recovery.”
Mr Wratten urged the Government to reach a deal with the PCS to save more than a million applications another “summer of discontent”.
Heathrow, the UK’s largest airport, is also facing the prospect of strike action over Easter. A ballot of more than 3,000 security guards, engineers and firefighters will close later today, the Unite union said. The union said many members cannot make ends meet.
Any strike action “will inevitably cause serious disruption across Heathrow with inevitable delays, disruption and cancellations”, Unite regional co-ordinator Wayne King said.
Jo Rhodes, its deputy editor Which? Journeysaid the passport strikes would be a “huge concern” for hundreds of thousands of travelers needing to renew their travel documents.
“Anyone planning to travel this summer should carefully check their passport expiry date, as well as the number of months required by their destination. If you need to renew your passport, please apply as early as possible – while current processing times are up to ten weeks, this may increase,” he said.
Ms Rhodes added that travel insurance is unlikely to cover a trip canceled due to an invalid passport.
Kevin Pratt, travel insurance specialist at Forbes Consultanthe said news of the new strike would send people waiting for passports “to panic”.
“We are heading into busy times for the travel sector and passport applications and renewals are no exception. The strike has clearly been called to put maximum pressure on the employer.
“The strike will not completely shut down passport offices, but it will cause delays in the process, and these could last until the summer,” he said.
He also warned Britons to start checking their documents if they have plans to travel abroad this year.
said Michael Riegel, managing director of corporate travel and expenses app Navan EuropeThe independent that people planning summer holidays and workers traveling for business will be equally disrupted by the strike next month.
“The impact will be huge on the travel industry – and also on the productivity of UK businesses. The number one reason for business travel is to connect groups – something that is now potentially at risk for thousands,” said Mr Riegel.
PCS is seeking a 10 percent wage increase as well as guarantees for pensions, layoffs and job security.
General secretary Mark Servotka said government ministers had failed to hold “meaningful talks” with the union and refused to improve on the previous two per cent pay rise.
“These [the government] seems to think that if they ignore our members, they will go away. But how can our members ignore the cost of living crisis when 40,000 public servants use food banks and 45,000 of them claim benefits they administer themselves?’ said Mr. Serwotka.
“It is a national scandal and a stain on this government’s reputation that so many of its own workforce are living in poverty.”
The announcement comes as the government and teaching unions agreed to hold “intensive talks” on the issues that have sparked a series of teacher strikes in recent months. It follows a major breakthrough in the NHS dispute on Thursday, with leaders of nurses, ambulance crews and other health workers agreeing to suspend further industrial action while a new pay offer is voted on.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said the strike would be a “kick in the teeth” for thousands of Britons.
“The stark truth is that the passport office has been a mess for years after ministers took their eye off the ball. Families have had their holidays canceled and business travelers stranded after endless delays,” Mr Carmichael said.
Downing Street said ministers would work to “mitigate” the impact of strikes by passport office staff.
“The Home Office will be working hard to manage the impact of this strike to ensure it can still provide the vital service to the British public as you would expect ahead of the summer, where we fully recognize that many people will want to get away and to enjoy the summer with their family,” a spokesperson said.