Travellers to Britain face long delays in sea and air strike
IRISH people travelling to and from Britain are likely to face long delays next week as staff at air and sea ports across the UK go on strike.
Heathrow will be worst hit, with passengers facing delays of up to 12 hours. However, there are fears that travellers will face frustration in many other parts of the UK on Wednesday.
It is understood that airports and airlines have been told that virtually none of the 6,500 full-time immigration officers are expected to turn up to work.
Retired immigration officers and those who had been laid off are being offered £300 (€350) each to break next week's strike amid fears that the stoppage will cause chaos at air and sea ports.
The one-off payment reflected what one Whitehall insider described as growing panic within the UK Border Agency over the impact of the walkout.
The agency's plight has been deepened by the decision of the normally moderate Immigration Service Union to hold the first strike in its history on the same day as the more militant Public and Commercial Services Union.
It will leave the agency relying on untrained staff who, at the very least, will take considerably longer to inspect and clear passengers as they arrive.
A spokesman for the agency said: "We always aim to minimise any disruption caused by the decision of unions to strike, but travellers could see longer waiting times at some ports and airports." The agency also fears that the ports and airports will not be the only sites affected.
There is a mounting war of words over next week's strike by civil servants, council officials, job centre staff, court officers, driving instructors, teachers and hospital workers. They are walking out over changes to public sector pensions that will mean they have to work longer and pay more into their retirement funds. Ministers have clashed with union chiefs over claims that the action could cost the economy £500m (€583m) and lead to job losses.
Immigration officers at Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk as well as the Eurostar stations in Paris, Lille and Brussels could also join the strike. Eurotunnel voiced fears that motorists could face delays.
Gatwick Airport is drawing up a contingency plan while a spokesman for Heathrow said its plea for airlines to fly planes half empty to ease pressure had received a positive response.