UK calls in staff abroad and civil servants as strike cover

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Britain is lining up staff from embassies abroad and civil servants to replace immigration officials at ports and airports who will join a national strike next week, officials said on Thursday.

The Border Agency has drafted in employees from other departments and contacted British immigration staff in India, South Africa and Russia to ask if they would be willing to return to help out during the action on Wednesday.

There are fears that the decision by up to 18,000 immigration officials to join the strike over pensions, which unions say will be the biggest walkout of state workers for a generation, could cause long queues at passport controls.

"The security of the UK border remains our top priority and we explore all options to ensure we minimise any disruption caused by planned union action," said a Border Agency spokesman.

All staff would be given "the necessary level of training" for the tasks assigned to them, the spokesman said.

The agency added that options to mitigate the effects of the strike included "asking staff posted abroad to fly home, to ensure we are able to manage any disruption which may be caused by strike action."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, accused ministers of "scratching around trying to put untrained people on the front line."

"Less than a week before the strike, to suddenly turn around and act in a blind panic is completely irresponsible," he told BBC radio.

Unions oppose moves to raise the public sector retirement age by up to six years to 66, increase employee contributions by 50 percent in some cases, and replace final salary pensions with those based on average career earnings.

© 2011 AFP

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