26 September 2023

UNITED KINGDOM: Military alerted as PS strike looms

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Hundreds of United Kingdom Defence Force personnel are being trained to drive ambulances and fight fires in the event of widespread Public Service strike action, the Government has said.

About 2,000 military personnel, Public Service managers and volunteers have been preparing as Ministers brace for a wave of industrial action across the public sector.

The Cabinet Office said preparations involved up to 600 armed forces personnel and 700 staff from the Government’s specialist Surge and Rapid Response Team, as well as other parts of the Public Service.

In addition to covering for fire and ambulance crews, they could also be drafted to ports and airports in the event of strike action by Border Force staff.

Chair of the ruling Conservative Party, Nadim Zahawi said Ministers were determined to minimise disruption from industrial action in the weeks ahead.

“It is the right and responsible thing to do to have contingency plans in place,” Mr Zahawi (pictured) said.

“We have a very strong team at Cobra (the Civil Contingencies Committee) who are doing a lot of the work in looking at what we need to do to minimise the disruption to people’s lives.”

The Cabinet Office said no decisions have been taken yet on the deployment of troops, but they were part of the “range of options available” should the strikes go ahead as planned.

In a statement, it said the priority over the coming weeks was to protect the public and limit disruption as much as possible, “particularly at a time when increased numbers of people will be travelling for the festive period and the National Health Service (NHS) is under huge pressure due to the impact of COVID-19”.

The measures come as a series of Public Service unions prepare to carry out strike action or ballot their members over pay as they seek to alleviate the squeeze on living standards from soaring inflation.

As well as ambulance staff, nurses in the NHS are due to hold two days of strikes this month while junior doctors are also set to be balloted on industrial action.

There is expected to be widespread disruption to transport in the run up to Christmas with further rails strikes, walk-outs by baggage handlers at Heathrow and possible action by Border Force staff.

The Fire Brigades Union is balloting its members, while industrial action is continuing at the Royal Mail.

London, 5 December 2022

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