UK minister denies passport staff strike leaving borders exposed

FILE PHOTO: Cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Defence minister Ben Wallace dismissed trade union claims that the country's borders are less secure with military personnel manning immigration desks rather than border force staff, who are currently on strike in a dispute over pay.

Border force workers began eight days of strikes just before Christmas at six UK airports. The government drafted in military personnel in their place to minimise disruption.

"Our borders are safe and secure," Wallace told reporters on Thursday from Manchester airport.

Those helping out when the strikes are on "are carrying out a very straightforward function and of course backed up by computer systems and scans .... that allow us to identify people of worry coming into the country."

New Trades Union Congress General Secretary Paul Nowak, asked earlier about reports that UK borders were operating more smoothly since the military stepped in, said that was because they did not have the authority to stop people.

"The reason why people are going through our border so easily is because those military personnel don't have the powers to stop people at our borders and effectively the government has decided it's going to open the borders," Nowak told Sky News.

He separately accused the government of blocking efforts by unions to reach pay deals.

"Rather than sitting down and negotiating in good faith with unions, ministers are sabotaging efforts to reach settlements," he said in a statement.

Britain has been hit by a wave of strikes by public sector workers pressing for better pay deals in the face of decades-high inflation rates.

(Reporting by Muvija M and Farouq Suleiman; Editing by Jon Boyle and John Stonestreet)