UK strikes will put military ‘under pressure’

What strikes are happening in December?

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The UK military will be put under pressure as soldiers are called up to cover for striking ambulance drivers and border guards, Labour peer Admiral Lord West has warned. Around 1,200 military personnel as well as 1,000 civil servants are being called upon to fill the gaps in the country’s public services as workers go on strike to demand more pay.

It has been reported that 10,000 ambulance drivers will join walkouts between December 21 and December 28. Passengers have also been warned to expect delays at airports as border force workers prepare to strike from December 23 to December 26, and then for four more days from December 28 to New Year’s Eve.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Lord West said that the British Armed Forces will come under pressure having already seen a reduction in its personnel in recent years.

He said: “The first thing to say is when you join the military, whether Army, Navy, or Air Force, you are signing up to serve the nation.

“If the Government of the day considers that there is a need to use the military to assure essential services are kept going. That’s what we have done historically and that’s what we do.

“I think there are some issues, however. The Government has been pretty slow in increasing defence spending and there have been reductions in the number of people in the military.

“You need sufficient people. If you cut down the numbers in the military to the bare minimum, to then use troops to support civil power puts the country to an extent at risk because you are not manning the equipment and things you need should there be a move from a war in Ukraine to a world war. 

“I don’t like it when the unions call the military strikebreakers. But equally, I don’t think it would be right for the military to say ‘they’ve wrecked our Christmas’.

“Because we have too few people it will impact soldiers and put pressure on them. It does have an impact on the basic defence of a nation, especially if it goes on for a length of time.”

The Government’s latest statistics show that, between October 2021 and October 2022, the UK military saw a 30 percent decline in recruits.

The total strength of the British Armed Forces now stands at 192,000, 6,700 less than in October 2021.

As reported by the Times, the military covering for striking workers could cost the taxpayer £10million a week as ministers plan to deploy as many as 2,500 soldiers to prop up public services.

However, Union bosses have warned that the plans won’t even work because soldiers are not adequately trained to drive ambulances and fill other gaps in the health service.

Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said on Sunday that the military is “no substitute” for qualified ambulance staff. She added: “The hours spent on contingency planning could have been better used trying to prevent the strikes from taking place.”

Nathan Holman, from GMB, went further. He said that the military personnel would only be a “hindrance” to the already strained health service.

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Paul O’Connor of the PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union) also said: “They are not sufficiently trained to carry out this role and they shouldn’t be put in this invidious position when they should be enjoying the festive break with their families.

“The same applies to civil servants who are being pulled in from elsewhere, also leaving their jobs uncovered. Instead of throwing good money after bad trying to desperately mask the effectiveness of our industrial action, the government should put a serious offer on the table to deal with the cost-of-living crisis that they have created for their own workforce.

“That is the only way to resolve this dispute.”

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden, spoke to the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg and addressed the strikes. He urged healthcare workers to not strike and suggested a pay rise could be given at a later date.

He added that it is “not fair” that Armed Forces personnel will have to fill the gaps in the UK’s public services.

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