Pilots threaten to strike over ID cards

The first wave of ID cards to be issued to British citizens has prompted airline pilots to threaten a strike rather than accept the documents.

Aviation workers have warned that proposals to make airport staff register for the cards from next year would do little to improve security. The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), which represents 10,000 of the 12,000 commercial pilots and flight engineers in Britain, said its members were being treated as "guinea pigs". Jim McAuslan, Balpa's general secretary, said the Government's "early warning system should be flashing" over opposition to the plans.

The Home Office insists the scheme will help airport workers improve security and streamline pass applications when staff move jobs. Ministers will publish draft regulations on Friday to set up a trial requiring airside staff at Manchester airport and London City airport to sign up for an ID card before they can get security passes allowing them to work there. If the regulations are approved, the first ID cards will be issued at the two airports from autumn next year as part of an 18-month trial.

Under the proposals, airport workers will be the first British citizens to be given ID cards, which are due to be introduced for young people from 2010.

But Mr McAuslan, whose union holds its annual conference at Heathrow later this week, said he would be consulting members on the possibility of industrial action if the Government presses ahead with the plans. "It may come to an industrial dispute," he said. "We would want to avoid that. We would want the Government to think again about the compulsory nature of it and think again about the whole scheme. The Government has said previously that ID cards will be voluntary but the indications are that if you choose not to have a card you will not get an airside pass."

The British Air Transport Association, which represents airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, branded the scheme a "dubious PR initiative by the Government and one that fails to offer any real benefits". The shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, said: "Labour should take their heads out of the sand and abandon this £19bn white elephant which will do nothing to improve our security but may well make it worse." The Tories have pledged to scrap the scheme if elected. Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, added: "It is no surprise that pilots are up in arms since they are one of the few groups selected as guinea pigs for this benighted experiment."

But a spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service said: "Identity cards will directly benefit airside workers – not just by improving personnel security, but also by speeding up pre-employment checks and increasing the efficiency of pass-issuing arrangements."

The timetable

*21 November 2008: Home Office issues draft rules on ID card trial at Manchester and London City airports.

*25 November: Home Office starts issuing ID cards for foreign nationals.

*March-May 2009: Regulations on trial scheme debated by Parliament.

*Autumn 2009: First airport staff to be given ID cards.

*2010: ID cards made available to young people for the first time.

*2011-12: Public invited to register for ID cards.

*2017: Vast majority of the population enrolled on ID card database.