As various worker groups go on strike over the holidays in the UK, about 1,200 members of the military and 1,000 civil servants will be called upon to cover for the striking ambulance and Border Force staff over Christmas. The government said that they will fill in the staffing gaps and keep front-line services running.
Around 10,000 ambulance staff in England and Wales will walk out on December 21 and 28 over demand for better pay. However, the unions believe that the military staff are not “sufficiently trained” to take on ambulance roles.
Armed forces officials are also not completely happy with the situation. The head of the forces warned that the troops should not be seen as “the go-to” option for strike actions.
However, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said keeping patients safe is his “number one priority”. He stressed that the military is directed by the government to “serve the nation”.
Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, told Sunday Telegraph, “We’re not spare capacity. We’re busy and we’re doing lots of things on behalf of the nation – we’ve got to focus on our primary role.”
Meanwhile, Wales authorities have said that the military won’t be driving ambulances.
The coming days are going to be extremely painful the the UK. Three main ambulance unions – Unison, GMB and Unite – are staging a strike on December 21. The GMB will be on strike on December 28 as well.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members had staged a walkout on December 15 and are set to walk out for a second time on December 20.
The nursing union has said that once the strike ends, they will give the ministers 48 hours to agree to discuss pay. If that doesn’t happen, they should be ready for more extensive action in the new year.
Independent pay review bodies, as per the government, have recommended an increase of around 4.75 per cent. However, with inflation touching an over 10 per cent hike, unions say this represents an unaffordable real terms pay cut.
Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden said a 19 per cent increase for nurses was “simply not affordable”.