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UK strikes in air travel and Royal Mail could impact Irish Christmas plans

Strikes are planned in the UK this month by rail workers, passport control officers, and in Royal Mail.

WORKERS IN TRANSPORT and postal services in the UK are pushing for better pay and working conditions in a series of strikes this month.

Disruptions to Royal Mail and air and rail travel may have knock-on effects for travel between Ireland and the UK over Christmas and exchanging cards and presents.

An Post has advised people in Ireland to send any items as soon as possible, while the Department of Foreign Affairs cautioned that Irish citizens planning to travel to the UK should stay informed about the latest developments.

Border Force officers working at passport control in several large UK airport, including Heathrow and Gatwick in London, plan to strike on 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30 and 31 December.

Other affected airports include Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow. The strikes mean there could be significant delays and potentially cancellations of flights arriving in the UK on those dates.

General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union Mark Serwotka said that the UK government could “stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts money on the table”.

“Like so many workers, our members are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. They are desperate. They are being told there is no money for them, while they watch ministers giving out government contracts worth billions of pounds to their mates,” Serwotka said.

“Some sections of the media have accused us of playing politics with these strikes. Let me be clear: our dispute is with the employer,” he said.

“We will fight to improve our members’ pay, terms and conditions regardless of who is in Downing Street.”

Thousands of passengers travel between Ireland and the UK every day.

For instance, on 23 December, one of the planned strike days, 19 flights will fly from Dublin to London Heathrow, with another 14 from Dublin to London Gatwick, according to flight search website Skyscanner.

In total, accounting for arrivals from all countries, UK airports with strikes are expected to receive more than 10,000 flights between 23 and 31 December.

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “Irish citizens intending to travel to Great Britain should stay informed of the latest developments in relation to any potential in-country disruption by monitoring local media reporting and should follow the advice of local authorities.”

It advised that people travelling abroad over the Christmas period can find advice on its website here and general advice about travel to Great Britain can be found on on its website here.

British Home Secretary Suella Braverman has said that if the strikes go ahead there would be “undeniable, serious disruption caused to many thousands of people who have holiday plans”.

“I really want to urge people who have got plans to go abroad to think carefully about their plans because they may well be impacted.”

She said the military would be able to assist but only “to a degree”.

Within the UK, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is planning to strike on 13, 14, 16, and 17 December, from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 27 December, and again on some days in January.

The strike is linked to a long-running dispute over pay and working conditions.

Passengers have been advised to travel only if necessary and to check with their train operator’s network for the latest information before they travel.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said on Thursday that the Rail Delivery Group, which oversees the industry, had been told by the government to ask unions to agree to a change that would mean drivers, instead of guards, would operate doors on all carriages.

Lynch said that would be unacceptable to the point that “they might as well have come in with a fish and slapped me round the chops with it”.

He said there was “no prospect of a resolution, not at the moment”.

royal-mail-workers-rally-in-trafalgar-square Thousands of striking postal workers protest in London. 9 December 2022 Tayfun Salci / PA Images Tayfun Salci / PA Images / PA Images

British Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has claimed the UK government wants to avoid agreeing to striking workers’ pay demands because, he said, it would risk locking in high inflation rates.

“We have to be really careful not to agree to pay demands that have the opposite of the intended effect because they lock in high inflation,” Hunt said, speaking at a Financial Times Global Boardroom webinar.

“If we make the wrong choices now, we won’t have that 3.7% of inflation in January or February of 2024 and this will change from being a one-off problem, to being a permanent problem, which will be the worst possible thing for people working in public services,” he said,

“That is why it’s generally a very difficult issue.”

Workers at Royal Mail have commenced a series of strike days that started on 9 December and will continue on the 11th, 14th, 15th, 23rd and Christmas Eve.

The Communications Workers Union says that the future of working conditions put forward by the company would turn it into a “gig economy-style parcel courier, reliant on casual labour”.

General Secretary Dave Ward told the Press Association that “giving job security to postal workers who only 18 months ago were hailed as key workers”.

“They kept the country going, they kept the country connected and they delivered and picked up all of the test kits,” Ward said.

“It’s about keeping postal workers, decent working people, in work and making sure that this company has a successful future and that it doesn’t just get turned into just another parcel courier.”

A spokesperson for Royal Mail said it is “doing everything we can to deliver Christmas for our customers and settle this dispute”.

It said it “recovered” services quickly after previous strike days but that “the task becomes more challenging as Christmas nears”.

In Ireland, members of the public wishing to send cards or presents, or other post, to the UK before Christmas should do so as soon as possible, An Post advises.

In a statement to The Journal, An Post said that during strikes, “post and parcel deliveries will not take place on these days, throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland”.

“There will be no change to the An Post service. An Post will continue to send and receive post and parcels to/from the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland during this time,” An Post said.

It warned that customers may experience delays with post and parcels coming from or being delivered through Royal Mail while the strikes are ongoing.

“We will continue to work closely with our colleagues in Royal Mail to minimise any customer impact and continue to inform customers of any upcoming changes.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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