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UK Prepares For Public Sector Strikes – Soldiers On Stand-By As Christmas Approaches

Paddington Station

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Christmas isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year, especially in the UK, where thousands of firefighters, nurses, doctors, railway and airport workers, and others are set to strike in the coming weeks due to ongoing pay disputes and other issues.

The National Health Service (NHS) is facing serious shortages as 3 different ambulance unions voted to strike last week over staffing levels and pay concerns. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing is staging 2 strikes this month and young doctors will be balloted regarding industrial action soon.

Over 33,000 firefighters and control room staff began voting Monday to decide whether or not to take industrial action instead of accepting a 5 percent pay increase.

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The troubles continue with railway workers since the biggest rail workers’ union rejected an offer from train operators on December 4 forcing the long-time dispute over pay, jobs and conditions to continue indefinitely. Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, called the union’s decision “incredibly disappointing” and went on to add that the decision is unfair to the public and passengers.

In response to the almost certain strikes and resulting chaos for the public sector, the government has been training roughly 2,000 people from the British military and government to cover for ambulance workers, firefighters, and Border Force staff as part of the government’s contingency plan. The plan includes up to 600 military personnel and 700 staff members from the government’s Surge and Rapid Response Team with others being brought in from other offices of the civil service.

While the Cabinet Office confirmed that no decisions have been made to deploy troops, it was stated that deploying soldiers were part of the “range of options available” if the strikes go forward as expected.

With multiple massive strikes looming ahead of Christmas, Downing Street has said that it would consider enacting legislation to impose minimum service levels on transport services such as railways and airports. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said, “We are keeping under review what is the right balance with regards to strikes. We won’t hesitate to bring forward changes if we judge they are required.”

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