Army ‘must NOT be used as reserve capacity to cover striking workers’
The armed forces chief has warned Rishi Sunak that it must not be treated as “reserve capacity” to cover striking workers.
As ministers prepare to deploy 1,200 troops to help with ambulances and guard borders, the chief of defense lamented that the military is “busy” and shouldn’t be the “stop shop” to fill gaps.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said the armed forces must focus on their “primary role” and cannot be the “ultimate containment” of industrial unrest.
The harsh comments came as unions claimed the military was not “sufficiently trained” to fill gaps in front-line personnel.
Mr Sunak has so far prevailed despite “unaffordable” demands, including demands from nurses to provide a 19 per cent pay rise, despite mounting signs of Tory alarm over the fallout.
NHS leaders have warned there is no question that strikes will pose “risks” for patients.
Unions claimed the military was not “sufficiently trained” to fill gaps in front-line manpower (ambulance file photo).
Along with 1,200 Army, Navy and RAF personnel, more than 1,000 officers will be recruited to support essential services.
Ministers are preparing to deploy 1,200 soldiers to help with ambulances and guard the borders
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said the armed forces must focus on their “primary role” and cannot be the “ultimate containment” of industrial unrest
While clarifying that the military can take on the additional responsibility “at our pace”, Sir Tony said seeing the armed forces as “the focal point” would be “an unusual position for us”.
“We are not free capacities. We’re busy and we’re doing a lot of things on behalf of the nation,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
“We have to focus on our primary role.
“It would be a bit dangerous to rely on defense to do all those things as the ultimate backstop.”
He declined to engage in “political debates,” stressing that the military is government-run and “serves the nation.”
Ministers have insisted their main concern is public safety, but the government has been accused of using troops to “mask” the “effectiveness” of industrial action.
Unions insist that the armed forces should not be placed in an “evil” position when they already have “enough on their plate”.
Ambulance crews in England are due to be absent from pay for two consecutive days on December 21 and 28, while Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) border staff will strike for eight days from December 23 until New Year’s Eve.
NHS Confederation Chief Executive Matthew Taylor said it was “really important” for unions to recognize that a commitment to “protect life and limb” goes beyond covering an “urgent emergency” such as a road accident or a heart attack.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We are in the middle of winter and we have a health service that is difficult to manage even on an ordinary day without industrial action.
“So there will be risks for patients. That’s out of the question.
“And that’s why the leaders I represent are calling on both the government and the unions to try to find a way through it.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said his “top priority” was keeping patients “as safe as possible” as he reiterated the government’s position that union demands were “unaffordable”.
Writing in the Sun on Sunday, Mr Sunak made no specific mention of the NHS strikes, which appear to have stronger public support, but instead focused on disrupting the transport network.
He lashed out at RMT boss Mick Lynch, saying: “Labour supports the Grinches who want to steal Christmas for their own political ends. We’re doing everything we can to help people get the Christmas they deserve.
“The Army is strengthening and we are taking other measures to keep the services running where possible.
“I hope those who are thinking of striking will come back to the table. As I showed during Covid, the priorities of the British people are my priorities.
“I will do whatever is necessary to protect the public. Unions must do the same and return to negotiations.”
The troops called up to cover the striking workers include 600 ambulance drivers and another 150 providing logistical support.
First responders from the community are also being deployed to help meet the demand for medical supplies.
Meanwhile, military personnel will join officers filling in for striking Border Force personnel.
They will help “minimize disruption to passengers” by checking documents and passports.
The NHS will enact “proven” plans to mitigate patient safety risks and manage disruption, the Government said, while trusts will work with unions to agree on safe levels of coverage.
The Cabinet Office will also release a new “resilience framework” on Monday, bringing together all levels of government, as well as the private sector, charities and the public, to “bolster” the UK’s preparedness for industrial action.
Unite, which is coordinating ambulance strikes with GMB and Unison, accused ministers of “undermining” the NHS and claimed those taking industrial action were actually “trying to save the service”.
GMB and Unison said those in power chose to “stay on their heels” on pay while healthcare was “already on its knees”, making disruption appear “inevitable”.
Sara Gorton, Unison’s chief health officer, also warned that the military is “no substitute” for qualified ambulance staff, while GMB’s Nathan Holman said bringing in “untrained” staff is more of an “obstacle” than a help.
Without special training in speeding and running red lights, the military can only respond to “the least urgent calls,” Holman said.
Ms Gorton said promises of a government rethink on NHS pay “could have put the brakes on action” but ministers “choose instead to dig on their heels”.
“The military is not a substitute for trained ambulance personnel, as the government knows,” she said.
“The hours devoted to contingency planning could have been better spent trying to prevent the strikes.”
Fears about inadequate training were echoed by the PCS, which accused Home Secretary Suella Braverman of “crawling around” to get “anyone she can” to represent border staff.
Paul O’Connor, the union’s chief negotiator, said the military had “better things to do” than passport control.
“They aren’t properly trained to take on that role and they shouldn’t be put in this awkward position if they’re supposed to be enjoying the festive break with their families,” he said.
Rishi Sunak has so far stood his ground despite mounting signs of Tory alarm over the fallout from “unaffordable” demands, including nurses demanding a 19 per cent pay rise
“The same applies to civil servants who are withdrawn from elsewhere and also leave their jobs vacant.
“Rather than throwing good money after bad and trying desperately to cover up the effectiveness of our industrial action, the government should put a serious offer on the table to deal with the cost-of-living crisis it has created for its own workforce.
“It’s the only way to resolve this dispute.”
Mr Barclay said: “NHS staff are doing an incredible job and it is deeply unfortunate that some union members are continuing to go on strike.
“My top priority is keeping patients as safe as possible and we are stepping up preparations across Government and the NHS, including making the best use of the armed forces and volunteers and freeing up capacity to mitigate disruption and ensure a safe.” to ensure staffing.
“People who need emergency and life-threatening care should continue to get in touch as usual or use NHS 111 online for urgent advice.
“I have listened to the unions and I am open to further discussion, but their demands are unaffordable given the economic circumstances.”
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11550871/Army-NOT-used-spare-capacity-cover-striking-workers.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Army ‘must NOT be used as reserve capacity to cover striking workers’