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Doctors, midwives and the main nursing organisation are threatening to join the pensions dispute in the new year, as ministers traded bitter words with union leaders ahead of Wednesday’s strike by up to 2m public sector workers.
But in a sign that Heathrow airport might avoid gridlock during the strike by immigration officers, the UK Border Agency on Monday told the aviation industry it was planning for a staffing level at passport control of 60 to 65 per cent of normal operations.
BAA, Heathrow’s operator, said such a staffing level – if accompanied by airlines halving the number of passengers they fly into Heathrow on Wednesday – would result in it taking four to five hours to clear passport control.
The operator last week expressed fears that it could take 12 hours to clear passport control if the UKBA was only able to provide a staffing level of 30 per cent. The UKBA declined to comment on its proposed staffing.
On Tuesday, an industry committee including BAA, airlines and air traffic controllers will review whether carriers have been able to secure the 50 per cent reduction in passenger arrivals on Wednesday that BAA has requested.
The warnings from health unions came as Michael Gove, education secretary, accused union hardliners of “itching for a fight” and wanting to inconvenience families and undermine economic recovery.
Unions said many workers would be striking for the first time and claimed the government was becoming desperate because it was losing public support over its plan to make public servants pay more and work longer for their pensions.
The Royal College of Nursing, British Medical Association and Royal College of Midwives – which are not taking part in this week’s strike – said they may ballot members on industrial action if no satisfactory deal is reached.
Jon Skewes, the RCM’s director of employment relations, accused ministers of “threats and bullying’’, warning they could push non-striking organisations into balloting.
“Government ministers are threatening to withdraw undertakings to protect those in their last 10 years of service and not improve the pensions offer currently on the table,” he said. “The government will ignore the depth of anger on this issue among midwives and other NHS staff at their peril.”
The RCN, with 415,000 members, said it would authorise an industrial action ballot in January if negotiations failed. The BMA will ask members to vote on the outcome of talks and is preparing an industrial action ballot if they reject it.
Wednesday’s strike involves 29 unions – 23 affiliated to the Trades Union Congress and six outside it. A total of 2.6m public sector workers were balloted.
Mr Gove said militants “want families to be inconvenienced. They want mothers to give up a day’s work, or pay for expensive childcare, because schools will be closed … They want scenes of industrial strife on our TV screens. They want to make economic recovery harder.’’
On Tuesday, an industry committee that includes BAA, airlines and air traffic controllers will review whether carriers have been able to secure the 50 per cent reduction in arriving passengers on Wednesday that Heathrow’s operator is asking for.