UK officials to hold emergency meetings amid wave of strikes

Plans for military staff and civil servants to stand in for striking workers are among contingency measures to be discussed

Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport, London, where members of the Armed Forces may cover for striking Border Force staff. Alamy
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UK government officials will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss plans for military staff and civil servants to cover for striking Border Force staff at airports and ports.

Military personnel and civil servants are being trained to step in, the government said, as the country faces an intensifying wave of strikes over conditions and pay this month, from nurses, paramedics and rail workers to Border Force officials.

Staff at Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff airports will strike for eight days from December 23 to New Year’s Eve.

The government said members of the armed forces would also be sent to hospital trusts across the country to familiarise themselves with vehicles before an ambulance strike scheduled for December 21.

Some members are already being trained as part of contingency plans by Border Force officials, as the government tries to avoid widespread travel disruption at Christmas.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden will on Monday lead the first of two Cabinet Office briefing rooms (Cobra) meetings next week, which will be attended by transport, health, Home Office and defence ministers.

Strikes across the UK - in pictures

Another meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

Mr Dowden called on unions to call off the “damaging” strikes.

“The stance the unions have taken will cause disruption for millions of hardworking people over the coming weeks," he said.

“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.

“Although departments are responsible for plans in individual sectors, it is right that the Cabinet Office co-ordinates a cross-government response.

“I will be chairing a series of Cobra meetings over the coming weeks to ensure our plans are as robust as possible, and that disruption is kept to a minimum.”

Border Force workers at UK airports to strike over Christmas - video

Royal College of Nursing members are due to take part in unprecedented strike action on December 15 and December 20, with tens of thousands of nurses expected to join.

With rail strikes also planned between now and early January, the government said it was working with Network Rail and freight companies to prevent delays and to ensure coal, steel and waste are given priority.

“The urgent meeting that the government would really benefit from convening is with us. Negotiate now and pause these strikes," a Royal College of Nursing spokeswoman said.

UK nurses to stage walkout over pay row - video

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton echoed that message.

“The wage rise given to health workers this year simply hasn’t been enough to stop staff leaving in droves," Ms Gorton said.

"Without enough employees in the NHS, patients will go on waiting too long for ambulances and for treatment to start.

“Instead of putting plans in place for the strike days, ministers should be concentrating all their efforts on ending the disputes.”

Updated: December 11, 2022, 10:41 PM
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