Passport Office strike: 'Huge delays' for renewals as staff begin five-week walkout

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union stand on a picket line on the first day of a five-week strike by UK passport office workers, in London on April 3, 2023. - UK passport office workers launched a five-week stoppage Monday, the latest walkout in strike-hit Britain as the country reels from the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) accused the government of failing to deal even handedly with public sector workers. (Photo by Susannah Ireland / AFP) (Photo by SUSANNAH IRELAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Queues at passport offices are expected as staff are set to go on strike for five weeks. (Getty Images)

A five-week strike by Passport Office workers will cause “huge delays” for people looking to renew their passport, a union has warned.

British holidaymakers are bracing for severe disruption as more than 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union began more than a month of industrial action.

The staff in passport offices in England, Scotland and Wales will take part in walkouts, which are scheduled to run until 5 May.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, warned: “In my opinion there will be huge delays in the already 10 weeks that people are supposed to apply for passports, and there will be huge disruption on the fast-track service that people can use when they want to get a passport quicker.

Read more: Who is on strike today in the UK?

“The Government says it has got contingency measures in place so we’ll see how that works out over the next few days and weeks, but I would expect there to be delays.”

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union on the picket line outside the Passport Office in east London, as more than 1,000 members of the PCS working in passport offices in England, Scotland and Wales begin a five week strike as part of the civil service dispute. Picture date: Monday April 3, 2023. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
The PCS union has warned of possible delays that could impact holidaymakers. (Getty Images)

He said there has been “radio silence” from the Government without even “one minute” of negotiations since strikes began.

Civil servants are to strike throughout April, culminating with another walkout by 133,000 workers at the end of the month, the PCS announced.

It said the huge stoppage will take place on 28 April in an escalation of the long-running dispute over pay, jobs, pensions and conditions.

With the summer holidays only a few months away, Yahoo News UK explains why some Passport Office staff are striking and when people should renew their passports if they are going abroad.

When and why are Passport Office workers striking?

More than 1,000 PCS members working in Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, Peterborough and Southport will walk out from 3 April to 5 May. Members in Northern Ireland's Passport Office are currently being balloted.

It’s an escalation of a dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members are not backing down in this dispute.

“Ministers need to take notice that we’re escalating our action and they need to resolve the dispute by putting money on the table.

“We know our strikes have already caused serious disruption. The new strikes and another national day of action will pile the pressure on a government that refuses to listen.”

When do I need to renew my passport by?

Ultimately, the Passport Office says it can take “up to 10 weeks” for the renewal process to be completed, though a recent National Audit Office report said the processing time for “straightforward applications” was just 12 days in September last year.

Even so, if we go by the Passport Office’s guidance, 10 weeks is getting well into summer holiday territory.

Watch: Government and education unions to hold ‘intensive talks’ after strikes

Also, consider a quarter of the Passport Office’s 4,000-strong workforce will be striking for half of this time.

And the fact the office processes six million passport applications a year. This averages 115,000 a week, meaning about 600,000 applications could be received during the five-week strike period where there will be a depleted workforce.

Given you have no chance of going abroad with an out-of-date passport, it’s best not to leave anything to chance.

Strike or no strike, it’s safest to apply as soon as possible if your current passport is expiring (also note that if you're visiting an EU country from the UK, your passport will need to be valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave, and be less than 10 years old).

Could it affect my summer holidays?

The PCS, as mentioned above, warned the strike will have a “significant impact” on the delivery of passports. But the government, responding to the union's announcement, has said there are no plans to change the 10-week guidance.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “There are no current plans to change the guidance that people should allow up to 10 weeks to get a passport.

"The Home Office will work hard to manage the impact of this strike action to ensure they can still provide the vital service to the British public as you would expect ahead of ahead of the summer where we fully acknowledge that many people will want to get away and enjoy the summer with their family.

“So we will do everything we can to mitigate the impact of the strikes.”

Read more: 'People used to clap': Why striking junior doctors are so fed-up

How much do passport workers earn?

The average figure is not available on the government's website, but current vacancies at the Passport Office show salaries of £22,400 for a document controller, up to £27,650 for a counter fraud officer and up to £27,650 for a customer service team leader.

Serwotka said the government is treating its "own workforce [including Passport Office staff] worse than anyone else".

"They’ve had six months to resolve this dispute but for six months have refused to improve their 2% imposed pay rise, and failed to address our members’ other issues of concern."

Read more: When will the cost of living crisis end?