The government is considering deploying the army to help ease possible strike disruption over Christmas, Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed.
Mr Zahawi told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday program that military personnel could be “driving ambulances” and working on UK borders under the proposals.
The Conservative Party chairman also suggested that pharmacists will be called on to help break the NHS strike action, saying “we have to be able to deliver safe levels of treatment and support to patients”.
“We’ve got to try and minimize disruption,” he added.
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The government has said that military personnel, civilian servants and volunteers are being trained to support a range of services, including the Border Force at airports and ports, amid fears of Christmas chaos.
A statement from Number 10 said the decision on whether troops would be deployed was yet to be taken, but that personnel “are part of the range of options available should strike action in these areas go ahead as planned”.
The UK faces a wave of strikes this winter, which will affect services including transport, the NHS, education and delivery drivers.
Tens of thousands are expected to take industrial action as the UK is gripped by recession and the cost of living crisis.
Mr Zahawi told Sky News that “this is not a time to strike”.
“If you chase inflation or above inflation, in some cases pay, then you will embed inflation for longer and hurt the most vulnerable,” he said.
“In fact, our message to the unions is to say, you know, this is not a time to strike. This is time to try and negotiate.
“In the absence of that, it’s important for the government. It’s the right and responsible thing to do, to have contingency plans in place.”
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He continued: “We’re looking at the military, we’re looking at a specialist response force… surge capacity.”
Military personnel were previously deployed to drive petrol tankers and deliver COVID jabs during the pandemic.
The government statement said: “Multiple unions have taken the decision to strike over the coming weeks, leaving millions of people facing disruption over the Christmas period.
“Many unions are asking for uplifts in line with inflation or even more – despite comparable uplifts in the private sector averaging between four and six per cent so far this year.
“The government recognizes these are very challenging economic times. That’s why it is focused on getting inflation under control as the best way to help everyone’s money go further and avoid soaring inflation rates being embedded in the UK economy.”
It added: “There is still time to call off planned strikes and ministers have repeatedly called for unions and employers to keep talking and come to an agreement, rather than take pre-emptive industrial action.”
Labour’s education secretary Bridget Phillipson could not confirm whether her party would increase pay in line with inflation in the public sector.
She told Sky News her party wants a “fair deal” for workers.