Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, rebuked trade unions on Sunday for their “particularly cruelly timed” strikes during the Christmas holiday season, saying they had put millions of people through hardship. The government also announced plans to use about 1,200 troops to cover for the striking workers and maintain essential services.
Over the course of the upcoming weeks, there will be a wave of winter strikes that will include train employees, healthcare professionals, and border security personnel who are all calling for improved compensation and working conditions.
Writing in “The Sun on Sunday”, Sunak said the workers have been offered “deals that are fair and affordable” and accused the unions of unleashing a “class war”.
“The unions are causing misery for millions, with transport strikes in particular cruelly timed to hit at Christmas,” writes Sunak.
“Rail workers and border officers have been offered deals that are fair – and affordable to taxpayers. An increasing number of union members want a deal. They are tired of being foot soldiers in [Railway RMT Union chief] Mick Lynch’s class war,” he said.
The government has frequently cautioned against giving in to union demands for significant wage increases because doing so would send Britain into a “inflation spiral” that would disproportionately affect the poorest people.
“Even [Opposition] Labour have admitted the unions’ demands are unaffordable. But they’ll still take union money and undermine the interests of the travelling public. Labour back the Grinches that want to steal Christmas for their own political ends. We are doing everything we can to ensure people get the Christmas they deserve,” said Sunak.
“The army is stepping up and we’re putting in place other measures to keep services running where possible,” he added.
Union leaders caution that the military is not “sufficiently prepared” to protect the nation’s borders or operate ambulances and that they already have “enough on their plate” to prevent them from being placed in such an “invidious” situation.
Stephen Kinnock, the opposition minister for immigration in Labour, said on “Sky News” that the government is “spoiling for a battle” with the unions and termed the Prime Minister’s words “incendiary.”
“I think the government needs to stop all the rhetoric, the empty posturing and sowing the seeds of division and actually now needs to start finding a constructive solution so that we can get people back to work in a way where they feel valued and where they feel that there is a real future for them in those jobs,” said Kinnock.
If ministers don’t come up with a solution within 48 hours after next week’s walkout, nurses are threatening to launch a second round of strikes in the new year on a far greater scale.
After Tuesday’s second unprecedented round of strikes by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the 48-hour countdown will start.
(With inputs from agencies)