Passport office strike: Man makes 300 mile journey to get urgent passport for son

Workers from the Durham Passport office is one of eight processing sites taking place in the strikes over the next five weeks. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

A man travelled over 300 miles to Durham to get his son's passport renewed despite passport workers beginning five weeks of industrial action in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

Rajasekharareedy Kethu set off from his home in Basingstoke at 4am on Sunday 2 April with his 10-year-old son who needs a new document to visit Mr Kethu's ill mother in India.

He said "We need to travel to India very urgently due to my mother's situation. She was supposed to have an operation this morning but I missed that time, so I need to find the next flight and go.

"We applied for the renewal three weeks ago and nothing happened. We didn't get a call or information.

"We've been calling the customer service and they keep writing notes on the application, but nobody has called us, so I thought it's better to travel and see what's happening. I didn't have any choice."

Mr Kethu has already been to the London office, but said he did not get help there as he was told the application was in the Durham office.

On arrival he found a picket line outside the office, which is one of eight processing sites taking place in the strikes for the next five weeks.

Mr Kethu continued: "So many people are striking I was so worried whether my application has been processed or not.

"Luckily someone took my details, so I'm hoping in an hour's time they will see my details and all the evidence required. Hopefully at least some people might be working and they will process it. I'm hoping I am lucky today.

"I don't have any other option."

He said seeing everyone one strike must be a 'real worry' for people like him up and down the country.

Karen Alderson, the branch secretary of the PCS Union for the passport office in Durham, was on the picket line this morning and said the strikes are a result of 10 years of below inflation pay rises, and pay freezes.

She told ITV Tyne Tees said: "I can honestly say in the last six months, I've never had anything like this before.

"I've got members coming to me in real distress that they can't pay for car parking, they're worried about how they're going to fill their car with petrol.

"They're choosing between heating and eating. We're now looking at having over 40,000 people using food banks in the civil service."

Ms Alderson added: "The important thing to say here is that the members working in this office are the ones who are actually doing a lot of the work around passport processing...they are responsible for high level information and they're on minimum wage.

"We've had backlogs in the passport office, and of course if you're going to pay people minimum wage it's going to be really difficult to recruit and retain those staff in the offices."

Ms Alderson continued: "The government can put a stop to this they just need to come round the table with PCS and have some meaningful discussions about the pay and our terms.

As part of the industrial action, the union is asking for a 10% pay rise - a minimum of £15 an hour- no further changes to the redundancy scheme and to stop overpayments of their pensions.

It also wants to secure job security for those working at the passport offices.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said:  “We are disappointed with the union’s decision to strike.  

“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.

“There are currently no plans to change our guidance which states that it takes up to ten weeks to get a passport.”

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