22/07/2012 14:50 BST

Jeremy Hunt Admits Sacking Striking UK Border Agency Workers 'Was Discussed'

Ministers have discussed sacking UK Border Agency staff threatening to strike ahead of the Olympics, Jeremy Hunt has admitted.

Mr Hunt told Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek: "We have a contingency plan in place and I am absolutely confident that we will get everyone into the country. They're not going to stop anyone getting in and this is not the time to be pursuing this kind of dispute.

"Sack them? That is the Ronald Reagan approach and I can tell you amongst ministers there have been people asking whether we should be doing that, but I don't want to escalate things by talking about that right now, because I know amongst those 600 people there are lots of people who want to do the right thing and turn up for work."

Hunt's confession that sacking the strikers had been discussed, came after Gary Richardson sparked outrage by insisting that striking workers should lose their jobs.

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Sportsweek presenter Gary Richardson has been slammed on Twitter for his lack of impartiality

The Sportsweek presenter told Hunt: "It's great that you have got these contingency plans and you have got these people able to come in and you have trained them up to step in.

The broadcaster, bound by a rule of impartiality, argued that the workers should be fired: "Why not just let those people go on strike and when they want to come back after they have done all their disruption say 'sorry, your job's not there any more'? Sack them."

Earlier, he said of the workers: "They are a disgrace, aren't they?"

People have been tweeting their disgust of Richardson's apparent lack of impartiality

Thousands of staff at the Home Office, including the UKBA workers, are to stage a 24-hour strike the day before the opening of the Olympics in a row over jobs, pay and other issues.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said its members will walk out on July 26 and will take other forms of industrial action, such as a ban on overtime, from July 27 to August 20.

The union warned it will announce further action if ministers continue to "refuse" to negotiate an agreement, warning that job and spending cuts are hitting services to the public.

The strike will involve staff across the Home Office, including the UK Border Agency, the Identity and Passport Service and Criminal Records Bureau.

Union officials said a work-to-rule and overtime ban could have a big impact on border controls and in passport offices because of the amount of overtime worked.

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Mark Serwotka said the strike would only be a "last resort"

The PCS is in dispute with the Home Office on several issues, including plans to cut 8,500 jobs, the threat of compulsory redundancies in the passport office in Newport, south Wales, pay rises capped at 1% following a two-year wage freeze, privatisation of services, and alleged victimisation of union reps.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told the Sky News Murnaghan programme he still hoped the dispute could be avoided and going on strike was a "last resort".

He said: "We've still got a few days to avoid the dispute, I've written to Theresa May, we've written to the management of the Home Office.

"We still hope and believe the dispute can be avoided, but going on strike is a last resort and I think your listeners deserve to know why we're doing it.

"8,500 jobs are being cut, 22% of staff at the border are to lose their jobs even though we routinely have queues and passenger anger is rising all the time and we've had compulsory redundancy notices issued to people in passport offices when you cannot get a passport at the moment because the service cannot cope.

"So these are not demands about personal gain, they are about defending important services, the security of the country and ensuring that people still have the chance to work all the year round.

"That's why it's disappointing the government have failed to talk to us for the last year, which is why we've had to take this last resort action."

He added: "We hope there isn't a strike, we hope that the Government will talk to us, we've asked, have agreed for Acas to become involved to try and find a resolution and I'm still confident if the Government want to avoid a dispute they could easily do so."

Conservative MP for West Suffolk Matthew Hancock branded Mr Serwotka "extraordinarily out of touch".

He said: "When only just over 10%, so one in 10 of the people eligible voted for this strike it's quite clear that this is the militant union barons like Mark Serwotka rather than members of the PCS union and border staff who want the strike."

He added: "He says this strike can be avoided and of course it can be avoided because he can call it off."