Britain’s border guards are to strike on the eve of the Olympics, the busiest day in the history of Heathrow, despite their union securing the support of just one in 10 staff.
Up to 5,500 immigration officials will strike next Thursday in a dispute about job cuts and pay, disrupting nearly 1,30,000 passengers as they arrive the day before the Olympic opening ceremony.
The striking workers, from the Public and Commercial Services union, will take further industrial action during the rest of the Games by refusing to work overtime.
Last night (Thursday) senior Conservative MPs accused the union of “holding the country to ransom” as ministers privately questioned the legitimacy of the industrial action. Just a fifth of the union’s 16,000 members voted, with 57% of them in favour.
Sources close to one Cabinet minister said the government is considering legislation to stop unions striking unless more than half their members vote.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said the action is “shameful” as officials drew up contingency plans to draft in civil servants to man immigration desks.
She said: “They are holding a strike on what is one of the key days for people coming into this country for the Olympic Games. I believe it is not right for them to hold a strike. They will risk damaging people’s enjoyment of coming through into the UK.”
The Border Force is already under pressure after delays of more than two hours at Heathrow in the run-up to the Olympics.
In March, the government managed to avoid serious disruption during similar industrial action after deploying staff from other parts of Whitehall.
But there are concerns that next week’s strike could be far more damaging because of the unprecedented number of passengers expected to arrive at Heathrow.