The UK government has announced the use of 1,400 military personnel to cover for striking ambulance and Border Force staff over the Christmas period.
Ambulance staff will go on strike on the 21st and 28th of December in a dispute over a proposed 4% pay rise. Border Force staff will strike from the 23rd to the 31st in a similar dispute over a 10% pay rise.
2,500 members of the armed forces will be on standby to cover gaps in staffing requirements to maintain a minimum level of safety for patients and travellers. Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, David Williams announced the plans earlier this week, stating that it was unlikely all 2,500 personnel would be used.
This announcement has caused controversy, ,Labour shadow Defence Secretary John Healey commented: "At today's Cobra meeting, will the Defence Secretary tell other ministers in other departments they are too often using our Armed Forces to bail out their own departments' failures, especially when he's making further deep cuts to the Army?”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace fired back at Healey, warning the Unions will “ruin the lives” of armed forces personnel. Wallace claimed Unions are putting people’s safety at risk by going on strike in the winter.
The government has so far refused to go into negotiations with Unison and the Royal College of Nurses, the two main unions representing ambulance staff. This is despite offers from the unions to call off the strikes in return for talks.
Some Labour MPs have hinted at their support for military use. In an interview with Sky News, when asked if he would support the use of the armed forces to cover the strike, Stephen Kinock said: “We are left with no choice, so yes I do support that.”
📺 Sky 501 pic.twitter.com/SDWsTQPVxk
Head of the armed forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, criticised the government,: “We’re busy and we’re doing lots of things on behalf of the nation. We’ve got to focus on our primary role.”
The government has also admitted that only 40 army personnel will be qualified to perform a paramedic role. Most troops will be used for driving ambulances and supporting logistics.
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