Barely a day goes by without immigration and border control making headlines. Both are political hot potatoes linked to the threat of terrorism, public safety, jobs, benefit spending, community cohesion and even “Brexit”. But what of the staff at the sharp end of this political “push me pull you”?
Border Force staff are faced daily with the competing pressures of keeping down airport queues and actually securing the border. The travelling public, and the port operators, don’t like queues. But the bunched arrival of several high volume or high risk flights can make this all but impossible to avoid. There are targets to be met, not only for the length of a queue, but also for customs activities such as the seizure of drugs and other illegal imports.
As if this were not enough, managers at our ports are consumed with work just to assuring the process. At any major port of entry, operational managers have to manage staff, deal with the public, authorise decisions, and complete more than 40 different paper and electronic logs every shift – simply so that more managers not directly involved in operational activity can be assured the job is being done.
Immigration enforcement staff are met by frequent protests and attacks from pressure groups opposed to the enforcement of immigration controls and borders. Where once this work was carried out with the assistance of the police, cuts and other spending restrictions mean they are now alone. To make matters more complex, they have been issued with vans with Immigration Enforcement stencilled on them, ensuring they can be easily avoided, or targeted.
Officers at the channel ports are at the sharp end of the pressures of irregular migration, with thousands of people desperate to reach the UK by any means. The strain of daily finding people in, on, behind or under haulage vehicles weighs on them as it does on the transport operators. Coupled with this they routinely work shifts iof 13 or 14 hours or more, unable to return to the UK because of disrupted or non-existent trains.
The pressures are not all due to spending cuts or political pressures. The Border Force is still recruiting and vacancies always have rafts of applicants. But recruits don’t stay – and turnover is in some cases unusually high. . Border staff are expensive to train and when they leave in such numbers this resource is wasted. Many cite unpopular, inflexible rostering and dreadful morale as their reasons for leaving.
Longer-serving staff are also under greater pressure. Rosters often don’t allow for caring responsibilities, and the requirement for staff in both Border Force and the separate Immigration Enforcement to be trained in arrest and re-certified each year puts massive pressure on an ageing workforce, with people finding they are not able to sustain this to retirement age – currently 67.
Both Border Force and Immigration Enforcement are staffed largely by committed and surprisingly loyal staff. But they are constantly battered.
Resource the staff properly, give them the tools they need to do their jobs, and treat them well. Surely that is the least they have a right to expect.
Talk to us on Twitter via @Guardianpublic and sign up for your free weekly Guardian Public Leaders newsletter with news and analysis sent direct to you every Thursday.