Heathrow border agents to strike day before Olympics
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Jeremy Hobson: We’re a week away from the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, but fears are growing in London that the games may not start smoothly. The union representing border agents at Heathrow airport is planning to go on strike a day before the Olympics begin.
Marketplace’s Stephen Beard joins us live from London with more on this story. Good morning.
Stephen Beard: Hello, Jeremy.
Hobson: Well, Stephen, how much trouble would a strike cause a day before the Olympics?
Beard: It could cause chaos. 130,000 travelers are expected to arrive at Heathrow on the Thursday. It will be the busiest day in the airport’s history. The government is clearly rattled, it’s described the planned strike as shameful, holding the country to ransom.
Hobson: Well, why is the union planning on striking then?
Beard: Well, this is over a long running dispute over pay and job cuts in the border agency. The union boss, Mark Serwotka, says, job cuts have been the cause of long delays at passport control at Heathrow in recent weeks. So he says Thursday’s action is designed to improve matters in the longer term.
Mark Serwotka: One day of disruption is regrettable, but it is better than having 365 days a year where people are coming to this country and queuing for three or four hours, and they can’t get proper service.
Beard: But obviously this one day of disruption, the day before the Olympics, could inflict maximum damage on Britain’s image abroad.
Hobson: Well yeah, and I wonder, how do the British people feel about the union planning to go on strike at a time when the country’s image is in the global spotlight?
Beard: Well, I think this is going to be very unpopular with the public. We’ve had in the run up to these Olympics, a flurry of threatened strikes by transport workers — bus and train drivers — all demanding an Olympic bonus for working during the Games, up to $1,0000 in some cases. The government however has caved, so anxious is it to have the Olympics run smoothly. So this does look like opportunism by the border control union, but hey, maybe it will payoff, maybe it will work.
Hobson: Marketplace’s Stephen Beard in London, thanks a lot.
Beard: Ok, Jeremy.
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