In what could only be described as a terrible week for the Home Office, up to 5,500 immigration officials have announced that they will go on strike next Thursday in a dispute about job cuts and pay.
Earlier this week the UK immigration system was thrown into chaos after senior judges said Home Office rules to curb the number of migrants were unlawful and not based on the Immigration Rules.
The industrial action will disrupt and cause misery to 130,000 passengers and UK tourists 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.
This week, 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 per cent 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, The Daily Telegraph reported.
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.”
Dominic Raab, a senior Tory backbencher, said: “It can’t be right that union bosses can paralyse vital infrastructure and humiliate the nation on a malicious whim, when just 11 per cent of their members support strike action.”
The Border Force is already under pressure after delays of more than two hours at Heathrow in the run-up to the Olympics.
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.
During the height of the summer, Heathrow would expect up to 107,000 passengers arriving at the airport, compared with the 126,000 expected on Thursday.
The Border Force is hoping that “hit squads” of up to 500 extra immigration officials from other parts of Whitehall will help to cover the extra demand, but it is unclear how many of them are also union members.
The PCS is in dispute with the Home Office on several issues, including plans to cut 8,500 jobs, the threat of compulsory redundancies in the passport office in Newport.
Service at the UK Border Agency has slowed considerably in the last year as staff cuts and apparent low moral take their toil.
BR1 Applications for Bulgarian and Romanian yellow and blue registration cards are several months longer than this time last year, and appointments for the same day service at Croydon are almost impossible to obtain.
UK work restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals were extended until the end of 2013 by the British government last November. Many are worried that these restrictions may be extended in the wake of the euro crisis.