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SBD Global/July 26, 2012/Olympics

Home Office Workers Back Away From Strike After Progress Made In Talks

Feared gridlock on London's roads due to Olympic traffic has yet to materialize.
A strike by Home Office staff including immigration officers that had "threatened disruption" on the eve of the London Games has been called off after "progress in peace talks," according to Brian Groom of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The decision to call off the strike "came just before the government was due to begin a High Court action to try to prevent the strike in a dispute over pay, jobs and privatisation going ahead." The union said that 800 new jobs would be created in the Border Agency and 300 in passport offices, "describing it as enough progress to suspend the strike" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/25). In London, Dan Milmo noted Heathrow is expecting one of its busiest days on Thursday, and the airport has, "so far, had a smooth run-up to the Games." The union said that a "work-to-rule campaign during the Games has also been shelved." Public and Commercial Services General Secretary Mark Serwotka denied that the Home Office recruitment drive had given the PCS an "opportunity to avoid action amid concerted political criticism of the strikes" (GUARDIAN, 7/25). Also in London, Gwyn Topham wrote the union has "seen sense, or capitulated to legal manoeuvrings, or won their victory, depending whom you believe." In calling off the initial plan to disrupt Heahtrow on the eve of the Olympics, "the union looked to have climbed down, bowed to the political orthodoxy that striking at this time of great national pride would lose friends and alienate the public." Within minutes of the border strike being called off on Wednesday, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union announced "another win" -- £860 ($1,300) for signalling workers at Thales. If the PCS has "arguably floundered in recent days, other unions have done well." Olympic bigwigs dismissed the Unite union's protests, but the mayor budged "and a few extra million were found." Every bus worker in London would get at least £500 ($775), and the majority £577 ($895). It was "just the latest in a string of Olympic victories for the unions" (GUARDIAN, 7/25).

SO FAR, SO GOOD: BAA Airports Limited CEO Colin Matthews, whose company owns Heathrow and five other airports, said that Olympic arrivals had “so far gone well with none of the feared passport queues.” Matthews said since this past Sunday “the experience in the airport, including immigration, has been great.” Matthews: “One of the biggest successes of the last few weeks is that queues at Heathrow have been the dog that didn't bark” (GUARDIAN, 7/25).

TRAFFIC JAM, WHEN YOU'RE ALREADY LATE: In London, Massey & Parsons wrote under the header, “Gridlocked Games: London’s Motorists Caught In Huge Jams As All Olympic Lanes Come Into Force ... And It’s Not Much Better On The Tube.” Motorists are facing "widespread gridlock ... as drivers were excluded from 30 miles of controversial reserved VIP ‘Games Lanes’ in the capital." Drivers are being threatened with a $201 fine “if they go into them.” Games Lanes “came into force across London, causing inevitable traffic chaos on already busy road networks, as well as delays on the London Underground as those trying to escape queues opted for public transport” (DAILY MAIL, 7/25). The AP’s Gerald Imray reported long lines formed Tuesday and “travelers were delayed at St. Pancras, the central London rail station where reporters, Olympic workers and fans with tickets depart for the Olympic Park in east London.” Officials hours later acknowledged that delays “up to an hour were continuing Tuesday night, blaming signal problems.” Days before the Olympics officially begin, London's “extensive subway and train system is facing a major test with officials expecting up to 3 million more journeys a day during the games” (AP, 7/25).

GRINDING THROUGH THE GRIDLOCK: The GUARDIAN’s Gwyn Topham noted U.K. transport authorities reported a “smooth start to the operation of controversial road changes for the Olympics Wednesday morning -- but independent analysts reported congestion even before most Games lanes were switched on, and further problems on the tube and train services heightened concerns about the capital's ability to cope” (GUARDIAN, 7/25). In London, David Millward wrote the “feared gridlock when the Olympics Games Lanes came into force has failed to materialise” (TELEGRAPH, 7/25). Trafficmaster Head of U.K. Networks Mick Savage said, “All the in-roads in to London are really busy and of course London is a nightmare because no one knows what they are doing” (LONDON TIMES, 7/25). The AP’s Sylvia Hui wrote, “Bafflement and long waits reigned on London’s roads this week.” There were “traffic backups in some parts of central London early Wednesday as commuters coped with the new restrictions, and there were signs that many motorists had switched to public transport to avoid the hassle.” Even if it all “goes smoothly -- a big if -- the 30 miles of Olympics-only road lanes are likely to remain deeply unpopular among Britons.” Critics argue that the lanes open only to Olympic athletes, officials, journalists, emergency services and games marketing partners are “elitist and make life difficult for everyone else” (AP, 7/25). 

LAND OF CONFUSION: In London, Ashling O’Connor wrote the Games Lanes have caused “confusion and frustration among motorists.” LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe said, “I’m expecting challenges simply because of the bloody nature of this town. It’s not easy. The vast majority of Londoners I speak to think this is going to be an extraordinary two weeks of their lives and there will be challenges for those wanting to maintain their orderly daily patterns. Yes it’s going to be busy, yes there will be traffic challenges and yes they have to go to things a little earlier than normal” (LONDON TIMES, 7/25). The FINANCIAL TIMES’ Blitz & Kortekaas noted transport and security shortcomings “continue to tax organisers in the run-up” to Friday’s Opening Ceremony. IOC Olympic Games Exec Dir Gilbert Felli said that London “was ‘one of the most difficult cities in the world’ to host an Olympics, because of its narrow streets.” Felli said, “We all cross our fingers. It’s not going to be easy.” He said LOCOG execs had “done what they had to do.” Felli: “Now we need to make sure we have a bit of luck” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/25).
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