STAFF at Newport’s Passport Office joined thousands of colleagues by going on strike over staffing levels today.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said the 24-hour strike action was a “bid to end staffing shortages that have caused the ongoing backlog crisis”.
The PCS branch chairman at the Passport Office in Newport, Ben Rapier, said 90% of its members in Newport supported the action.
He said: “We have had strong support on the picket lines from members. Although the counters were open, management had to scale back the applications and there weren’t as many interviews being held.
“Members of the public spoke to staff at the picket line. They were all aware of the backlog that the Passport Office has and we explained that it was caused by job cuts and they were very understanding.”
The union says that although a new recruitment drive is under way, many of the posts are not permanent jobs and are only likely to replace the 8% of staff — around 300 full-time equivalent posts — that the agency forecasts will leave every year anyway.
The Passport Office has cut hundreds of staff since 2010. The number of full-time staff there fell from 3,700 at the end of 2010 to 3,164 by 2012, but rose to 3,333 by the end of 2013.
The last time the Passport Office increased staffing was after the union’s 2012 dispute over jobs across the Home Office.
At that time the shortage was most obvious at the borders, with queues building up at airports, and undertrained staff were being drafted in from across the department and other government departments.
To cope with this year’s crisis, the Passport Office has drafted in staff from other Home Office agencies, extended opening hours for processing centres and offered enhanced overtime payments.
The union is also in dispute over pay in the Passport Office, where staff can be paid up to £3,000 less than their colleagues doing similar work in other areas of the Home Office, and the threat of more privatisation. The PCS says that the agency appears to have accepted the argument over pay but would still have to put a business case to the Treasury for funds.
A Home Office spokesman called the strike “irresponsible” as it would “inconvenience customers” and “jeopardise their holidays”.
The Home Office said that contingency plans were in place to keep disruption to a minimum, so all HM Passport Office customer service centre counters remained open and passports for those with urgent travel needs were issued.