News ID: 109771
Publish Date : 04 December 2022 - 22:07
Amid Plans for Widespread Industrial Action,

UK May Deploy Army, Ban Right to Strike

LONDON (Dispatches) -- The British government is looking at bringing in the military to help keep public services running if key workers, including in the state-run National Health Service, take strike action, the chairman of the governing Conservative Party said on Sunday.
Britain is already grappling with industrial action in a range of sectors, but now faces strikes by thousands of nurses in England and ambulance workers in England and Wales who plan to walk out later this month over pay and conditions.
The government has repeatedly called on workers to halt strike action, saying it could not afford pay rises to cover inflation and that, even if it could meet their demands, such increases would further fuel inflation.
“Our message to the unions is to say ‘this is not a time to strike, this is a time to try and negotiate’. But in the absence of that, it is important for the government... to have contingency plans in place,” Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News.
“We’re looking at the military, we’re looking at a specialist response force... a surge capacity,” he said, adding that the military could be brought in to drive ambulances.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in power for just over a month, faces a raft of problems, including what could prove to be a lengthy recession in the run-up to an election that opinion polls suggest the Conservatives will lose.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that Sunak could revive plans to curb the right to strike for public sector workers, including NHS staff, teachers and firefighters, while the Sunday Telegraph said pharmacists could be drafted in to help patients if health workers strike later this month.
Zahawi again blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for fuelling energy price rises and inflation, calling on public sector workers to “come together”.
“There is a minimum safety level of delivery in place already, but the NHS will look at all contingency planning,” he said.
Labour has already complained that the British army is being outstretched by the plan to “bail out failing services” in the UK.
John Healey, the shadow defense secretary, has reportedly written to the defense secretary, Ben Wallace, to warn that troops “may be diverted from essential defense tasks” to plug staffing gaps caused by strikes in Border Force, the NHS and elsewhere.
Cuts in day to day military budgets mean that the British army is in the process of being cut to its smallest size for over 300 years. The number of troops is set to drop by 8,000 over the next two years to reach 73,000.

European security, however, has been at its most uncertain since the end of the cold war following the breakout of the Ukraine war in February, prompting a wave of extra military deployments by the UK and other NATO allies in eastern Europe.
Last February, just before the war started, the UK said it would deploy a second battalion in Estonia, in response to the Russian troop build-up.
But earlier this autumn it emerged those forces would be withdrawn back to the UK, where they would remain at “high readiness” to fly out in the event of threats to the Baltic country, prompting concerns about Britain’s military strength.