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'Summer of discontent': Brits' holiday fears as more than a million passports at risk due to month-long strikes
17 March 2023, 23:38 | Updated: 17 March 2023, 23:39
More than a million people's passport applications could be delayed, putting their holidays at risk this summer after passport workers voted to go on strike for a month, with anyone needing to renew documents urged to move fast.
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More than 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union working in Passport Offices in England, Scotland and Wales will take part in the action from April 3 to May 5. The Passport Office employs about 4,000 people, so a quarter will not be working.
People whose passports are expiring were urged to get it done before the strike started with an emergency appointment, although these are expected to be booked up quickly.
Passport office workers in Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, Peterborough and Southport will walk out from April 3 to May 5 while those in Belfast will strike from April 7 to May 5.
The strike has been timed to coincide with one of the busiest times for passport renewals. Last April, some 950,000 people sent in applications to the Passport Office, with 1.25 million renewing in May.
The PCS union said the action was a "significant escalation" of its long-running dispute with the government over pay and conditions, warning it was likely to have a "significant impact" on the delivery of passports as the summer approaches.
Travel industry experts warned of the disruption the strikes would cause to people's holidays this summer.
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “The Passport Office strikes will have devastating consequences for business travel and the UK economy.
“These strikes will impact businesses across the UK resulting in loss of sales and deals which will cause further damage to the industry and economy which has so far observed a bounce back.”
He said the government needed to reach a deal with the PCS union to avoid a "summer of discontent".
Kevin Pratt, a travel and personal finance expert at Forbes Advisor, said: “The strike won’t close passport offices but it will introduce delays into the process, and these could linger into the summer. Anyone with travel plans who needs to sort out their passport should start the ball rolling without delay.”
He told the Times: “Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that your travel insurance will provide cover if you do not have a valid passport when you’re due to travel. Equally, you won’t have any recourse from your airline if you have to cancel your flight — they’ll tell you the matter is out of their control and, as such, it is not their responsibility.”
The Home Office maintained that its turnaround period of up to ten-weeks for passports still stands, but urged people to get started with their renewal application quickly.
It's not just summer holidays that are set to be affected by strikes. People looking for an Easter getaway are also likely to face delays, with Heathrow security guards who are members of the Unite union voting to walk out for ten days in March and April.
The terminal five security strikes will start on March 31 and end on April 9 (Easter Sunday).
Representing the striking passport workers, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "This escalation of our action has come about because, in sharp contrast with other parts of the public sector, ministers have failed to hold any meaningful talks with us, despite two massive strikes and sustained, targeted action lasting six months.
People queue up at HM Passport Office in Victoria amid backlog
"Their approach is further evidence they're treating their own workforce worse than anyone else. They've had six months to resolve this dispute but for six months have refused to improve their 2% imposed pay rise, and failed to address our members' other issues of concern.
"They seem to think if they ignore our members, they'll go away. But how can our members ignore the cost-of-living crisis when 40,000 civil servants are using foodbanks and 45,000 of them are claiming the benefits they administer themselves?
"It's a national scandal and a stain on this government's reputation that so many of its own workforce are living in poverty."
The new strikes affecting the travel industry may come as a blow to the government after NHS ambulance workers and nurses agreed a pay deal that ministers and unions suggested could set the template for agreements with other striking workers.
A government spokesman announced on Thursday afternoon that a deal for nurses and ambulance workers had been reached, including a pay rise for 2022/23 and a pay settlement for 2023/24.
And Jeremy Hunt told LBC he hopes that the government's NHS pay offer could lead to more breakthroughs among other public sector workers who have walked out in recent months.
Unions representing civil servants and teachers also suggested the NHS pay deal was "encouraging".
Meanwhile the NHS said on Friday that more than 175,000 appointments and procedures were lost amid the three-day junior doctors' strike this week.