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Potential border guards strike threatens to cause havoc at Olympics

Airport police keep patrol at an arrival terminal at Heathrow Airport Wednesday, July 18, 2012 as London prepares for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Charlie Riedel/AP

As if a security fiasco and pouring rain weren't enough, organizers of the London Olympics now have to one more challenge: a potential strike by border guards.

The union representing border guards plans to go on a 24-hour strike on July 26, just one day before the opening ceremonies. And the union plans further job disruptions throughout the Games.

The move by the Public and Commercial Services union, or PCS, which represents nearly 16,000 border officials, passport control officers and criminal records, has infuriated the government which has called it "shameful".

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But union officials aren't making any apologies, arguing they have been trying to sort out issues over pensions and job cuts for months.

"The lives of staff have been made intolerable by these cuts and they're at breaking point," PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said in a statement Thursday. "Ministers have known about these issues for a very long time and need to act now to sort out the chaos they have caused. They're acting recklessly in cutting so many jobs and privatising services, and are provocatively refusing to talk to us with a genuine desire to reach an agreement."

London's Heathrow is already one of the busiest in the world and it has been handling even more traffic as a result of the Games. Line up at immigration and customs have already taken several hours at times.

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, made no apologies for striking during the Olympics. The union has already held strikes in May and last Fall over similar issues.

Jeremy Hunt, the minister in charge of the Olympics, said there are contingency plans in place in case of a strike. "But we would be very disappointed if it actually came to that," he said. "If the unions chose to strike during the Olympic period, I am absolutely confident that the Olympic plans would continue and we would be able to minimize any disruption. But it would be completely out of tune with the mood of the British public. This is a moment where Britain wants to show its best face to the world and that is what the vast majority of the public want as well and I would strongly council any unions thinking of disrupting this very important period I think they would lose huge amounts of public support if they really tried to do this."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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