John McDonnell – 2021 Speech on Covid Security at UK Borders

The speech made by John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, in the House of Commons on 1 February 2021.

From the outbreak of the pandemic, I have taken an extreme precautionary approach, encouraging early, longer and more severe lockdowns. That is why I support the motion before the House today. With 100,000 dead we need decisive action. But yes, we also need the aviation strategy that the Chancellor promised us over nine months ago and that we have yet to see.

To ensure that any system of border control operates effectively at our airports, we need a sufficient number of well-trained professional staff at the immigration passport control points. The team at border control at Heathrow is known for its professionalism and commitment to high standards of service delivery. Many of them are my constituents; in fact, many of them are my neighbours. They have worked throughout the pandemic with some risk. Members may recall that some months ago, tragically, a father and daughter working in this role lost their lives.

Just at a time when we need these staff most and should respect the role they are playing, the management within the Home Office is provoking a strike. The Home Office management has decided, extraordinarily, that this is the time to rush through an imposition of new working rosters that are making it impossible for many staff to work effectively, especially those with disabilities and caring responsibilities. Staff who have been working on the new roster are all reporting that it has been chaos. It has put the operation at risk and made social distancing difficult. There are multiple examples of covid-secure bubbles being breached by managers because of a lack of staffing and the poor organisation of the new fixed rosters.

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents the staff, has balloted its members. On a 68% turnout, 96.4% voted for strike action. That is how angry they are. The union will now seek a return to the negotiating table to try to resolve the staff issues. No Government should be sanctioning actions by its departmental managers that force their staff to resort to industrial action in this way, especially not in the crisis we now face. I urge the Minister to look into this matter again and intervene to resolve the dispute, so that these dedicated staff can continue to provide the vital service we need to protect our community, especially as the Government, and the Opposition proposals that we are debating, require staff to work effectively and supportively, and to be respected.