Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brainless British immigration control

As passengers are kept hours waiting for passport checks, border staff 'are being sent home if their shoes aren't shiny'

They are already under pressure dealing with disgruntled passengers who have queued for hours at immigration, but now Border Force officers will face daily checks on their uniform, hair and fingernails before starting work.

Internal emails to staff state that those who fail the appearance checklist can be sent home or moved off the public-facing immigration desks.

The news has exasperated, already-stressed border control staff and one of them penned an anonymous poem, posted on a Heathrow staff noticeboard, with a line saying 'The people won’t mind three hour queues, if they can see our shiny shoes.'

The new rules, revealed by The Daily Telegraph, will not be well received from disgruntled passengers either - last week it was revealed that passengers were storming past border guards at Britain's airports in frustration at lengthy queues at passport control.

The fiasco has become increasingly embarrassing in the run-up to the Olympics, prompting fears that Britain will become a laughing stock as half-a-million spectators arrive here from around the world.

Passengers not only face lengthy delays getting into the country at Heathrow but also other ports including Stansted and Coquelles, the Eurotunnel terminal in northern France.

In March, one instruction stated high uniform standards also applied to personal appearance.   'In particular, hair should be clean, neat and tidy. Extreme hairstyles and conspicuously unnatural colours are unacceptable.  'In addition, all members of staff with long hair should ensure their hair is tied up (i.e. off the collar and in a bun or similar style so it cannot be easily grabbed) when they are on duty,' reported The Daily Telegraph.

Lucy Moreton, deputy general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, was shocked by the implications the new rules held.   'This is just the latest in a series of incidents akin to re-arranging the deckchairs on the titanic.  It simply does not matter whether staff have clean hair.

'What does matter is getting what staff we have onto the front line in a timely manner and making best use of them whilst they are there.  If their shoes are not shiny I really don’t think anyone will mind. A loss of 10 or 15 minutes may not seem much; but 12 officers in 15 minutes could clear over 100 passengers between them,' she added.

Although a uniform policy was already set by the previous government - managers at ports of entry across the country were not required to perform regimented checks and there was a more relaxed approach.

But when Brian Moore, joined in March as interim head of the Border Force, staff noticed the rules became more strict. Mr Moore, the former chief constable of Wiltshire, has already commissioned a new Border Force £2.5million universal uniform which will be worn by all levels of staff - the previous uniform was only introduced three years ago.

A Home Office spokesman defended the policy. He told the newspaper: 'Turning up to work smart does not take resource away from border control.'

Meanwhile there were fresh concerns today over safety at Heathrow airport after it was revealed that staff had stopped screening passengers for drugs and guns because they were so under-staffed.

A senior customs official anonymously told The Observer newspaper that Heathrow now has ‘no border control’ as a result of staff shortages at Britain’s busiest airport.  The official said: 'We have actually ceased doing (anti-smuggling operations) at the moment, even though they won't say they have. Word has already got around to criminal enterprises.'

The source described an incident last week involving two Pakistani students accredited to work on the Olympic site.  He felt they posed a risk - but they were cleared without being searched.  He blamed the downgrade in security on cutbacks and political pressure to reduce waiting times for passengers arriving at the airport.

A Home Office spokesman insisted the government was 'committed to maintaining border security,' adding that 'our staff... continue to target drugs and illegal weapons'.


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