Bloomberg News

U.K. May Use Troops to Patrol Borders During Strikes, Maude Says

November 27, 2011

Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) -- British soldiers may be deployed to patrol borders if a planned strike by public sector workers on Nov. 30 goes ahead, Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude said.

Passengers arriving at BAA Ltd.’s London Heathrow airport, Europe’s busiest, may have to wait as long as 12 hours to clear immigration, the company said on Nov. 25. Maude told Sky News today the government would, if necessary, use troops to “secure borders” and minimize disruption for travelers.

“If that’s what’s needed -- it’s not what we’d prefer to do -- but if that’s needed, I am told the U.K. border agency are looking at all the options,” he said in the interview with Sky.

Unions representing border staff, teachers, health workers and civil servants are planning strikes to protest plans to make government employees retire later and contribute more toward their pensions. Ministers say the move, part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s 80 billion-pound ($124 billion) program of spending cuts, is fair as the more-than 5 million workers who contribute toward public-sector pensions get benefits no longer available in the private sector.

Ed Balls, the U.K. opposition Labour Party’s main Treasury spokesman, told the British Broadcasting Corp. today unions should “give ground and talk” with the government and attempt to find a solution so that the strike can be averted. Trades Union Congress General Secretary Brendan Barber said in a BBC interview it’s unlikely the government could say anything that would avoid the strike.

Theresa May

Managers at the U.K. Border Agency who were expected to step in to cover for striking colleagues on Nov. 30 have refused to do so because they are angry at the treatment of Brodie Clark, the immigration chief who resigned in a dispute with Home Secretary Theresa May over the easing of passport checks, The Guardian newspaper reported on Nov. 25, citing unidentified government officials.

Maude said today he wanted to avoid an overhaul of laws to prevent unions holding strikes without a majority of the workforce backing them.

“We don’t want to go down that path,” he said. “But there is a case being made for changing the laws. The biggest unions had a very low turnout and a strike this week would only strengthen that case.”

--Editors: Edward Evans, Colin Keatinge.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gonzalo Vina in London at gvina@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net


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