Christmas chaos as soldiers may miss the holidays to cover strikes

Health secretary on impact of ambulance strikes amid pay dispute

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The Government is set to hold emergency Cobra meetings where it’s believed they will discuss plans for military staff to cover striking workers. Around 1,000 military personnel may miss Christmas this year to fill in for Border Force staff and ambulance drivers, reports suggest.

Two emergency Cobra meetings are to be held on Monday and Wednesday by ministers to plan how to limit disruption by industrial action, as strikes are set to take place every day until the end of the year. 

The military aid to civil authorities request (MACA) was also submitted to the Ministry of Defense on Friday, which will mobilise the military to fill in at airports and to drive ambulances. 

Ambulance workers will walk out on December 21 and 28 while Border Force staff wil strike throughout Christmas from December 23 to 26 and then again from December 28 to 31. 

Ten sectors will strike this week which includes workers in health care, transport, postal plus civil servants,

Oliver Dowden,  the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will head the first Cobra meeting on Monday, as he is the most senior minister in the Cabinet Office which is in charge of planning for the strikes. 

 

While announcing the meeting, Mr Dowden said: “The stance the unions have taken will cause disruption for millions of hardworking people over the coming weeks.

“The Government will do all it can to mitigate the impact of this action, but the only way to stop the disruption completely is for union bosses to get back round the table and call off these damaging strikes.” 

He added: “Of course, we want to ensure that people are paid fairly, but what isn’t fair is for union bosses to put people’s livelihoods at risk in order to push their pay demands to the front of the queue.

“Nor would it be fair to ask families to pay an extra £1,000 a year to meet the union demands.”

It’s understood that some in the military are started to raise concerns about the amount of assistance the Government is asking from troops, as one military source reflected that there were grumblings from junior ranks.

The military source said to the Guardian: “MACA used to be last resort. Now it’s the go-to. Bad government planning equals soldiers missing Xmas.”

Some soldiers could potentially be missing their third Christmas in a row after the military was called in to assist with the Covid pandemic as well as other deployments.

Lord Richard Dannatt, the former head of the army, has warned that soldiers missing Christmas with their families may damage morale and cause some soldiers to quit.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Lord Dannatt said: “Soldiers might decide they’ve had enough of bailing the Government out of the muddles it gets itself into, they might think: ‘I joined to be a soldier, not a strike-breaker.’”

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NHS workers who are part of the Unison union in Northern Ireland will begin this week’s strikes and this week will also see nurses who are members of the Royal College of Nursing strike for the first time on Thursday.

Union leaders are calling on the Government to negotiate with them, as Pat Cullen, the leader of the Royal College of Nursing has said: “[Strikes] will be repeated on December 20 if the Government sticks to its current position of inaction and avoidance.”

Unison said the Government can halt the strikes by making an effort to “put a proper pay plan on the table”.

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said: “Instead of putting plans in place for the strike days, ministers should be concentrating all their efforts on ending the disputes,

“Speaking to unions about improving wages can work wonders as the Scottish government has found. It’s time ministers in Westminster did the same.

“They should stop talking tough, put a proper pay plan on the table and get the unions in to discuss it.”

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