On 3 April, staff at all 8 passport processing offices across the UK started a five-week strike, until 6 May. Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union working at HM Passport Office (HMPO) are walking out over pay, pensions, job security and redundancy terms disputes. During this time, over one million passport applications could be affected, the Independent estimates.
Mark Serwotka, PCS’ general secretary has said that the government is continuing to treat the civil service worse than any other part of the public sector, when talks and potential settlements are happening in health and education, but not for the government’s own workforce, thus forcing workers to take an unprecedented amount of strike action.
“You have the capability to prevent it [the disruption] by sitting down with PCS and working out a settlement. When we met, you led us to believe, as have your officials in the weeks since then, that serious negotiations to resolve this dispute would take place but, weeks later, they still have not begun. The level of industrial action in the civil service reflects the strength of feeling amongst PCS members on the issues in dispute and the suffering caused by the cost of living crisis that they are facing”, Serwotka told Jeremy Quin MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office well ahead of the beginning of the strike, on 12 January.
These are hard-working public servants who helped carry this country through a pandemic and they deserve to be treated fairly.Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary
There has been a strong turnout of members on all days of the strike so far, PCS has indicated, with large protests attended by over 100 people in Liverpool and Glasgow. All other picket lines in Durham, Newport, Southport, Belfast, Peterborough and London have also reported large turnouts. Picket lines have been visited by reps from PCS branches, other unions and MPs. In the two weeks before the strike, over 650 new members in HMPO joined PCS, while altogether the Home Office group recruited over 1,000 new members in March.
Despite the strikes, the HMPO promises the processing time for renewals or new passports will be unaffected, advising people to submit applications 10 weeks before their intended travel date. This extended processing time was established in April 2021, when applications skyrocketed with some Covid-19 travel restrictions starting to lift. Before then, the indicated time was of 3 to 6 weeks.
“We are working to manage the impact of strike action whilst ensuring we can continue to deliver vital services to the public, with comprehensive contingency plans in place”, ensured a spokesperson for the UK Home Office, adding that they are disappointed with the “union’s decision to strike after engaging in constructive talks to find a resolution”.
Besides the normal application, expedited services are still available, at an extra cost. The one-week fast track service for renewing or replacing a lost or stolen passport costs £155 for an adult passport and £126 for a child passport, compared to the usual fees of £82.50 online / £93 by post for adults and £53.50 online / £64 by post for children under 16. An additional renewal online premium service is available for £193.50, with the earliest appointment however being available at least 2 days after applying online.