Emergency Cobra meeting today amid strike chaos, with plans for army and civil servants to cover walkouts

12 December 2022, 14:49 | Updated: 12 December 2022, 14:53

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden will lead emergency cobra meetings today over widespread strikesstrikes.
Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden will lead emergency cobra meetings today over widespread strikesstrikes. Picture: Getty

By Chris Samuel

Ministers will hold an emergency cobra meeting to discuss plans for civil servants and military staff to provide cover for striking workers, as Brits face a wave of walkouts over the festive period.

Paramedics, nurses, Border Force officials, rail employees, Royal Mail staff, and Border Force officials are all staging walkouts in disputes over pay, jobs, and conditions.

Civil servants and the armed forces are being prepared in case they're needed at airports and ports, as border staff get ready to strike from December 23 to 31, MailOnline reported.

This week, hundreds of military personnel will be deployed to hospitals to help maintain vital services, and others will start training at hospital trusts to drive ambulances during the planned strike by paramedics next week.

Today, ministers are expected to finalise contingency plans for the planned nurses' strike on Thursday, and industrial action by postal workers and rail staff.

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Pat Cullen, head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union, had said strikes set to take place this week could be put on hold if the health secretary negotiated "seriously" over pay.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was "very happy to talk" to nurses' unions, though it was "important both sides respect" the pay offer that has been made to NHS staff.

"We have engaged with them and we continue to be willing to do so," he said, but added that the government honoured independent pay review body's recommendation.

The British Medical Association (BMA) warned yesterday that a junior doctors strike over a 26 percent pay demand was ‘very likely’.

Highways staff also plan to strike in a series of rolling walkouts.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was "very happy to talk" to nurses&squot; unions, though it was "important both sides respect" the pay offer that has been made to NHS staff.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was "very happy to talk" to nurses' unions, though it was "important both sides respect" the pay offer that has been made to NHS staff. Picture: Getty

Last night, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden urged union bosses to call off the ‘damaging’ strike action.

He said: ‘The stance the unions have taken will cause disruption for millions of hardworking people over the coming weeks.’

Mr Dowden, who will lead the meetings today and on Wednesday, said the government was working to keep disruption ‘to a minimum’, though he acknowledged key services would suffer.

He said that inflation-level pay rises across the public sector would cost taxpayers £28billion, which works out to nearly £1,000 per household.

‘Of course we want to ensure that people are paid fairly, but what isn’t fair is for union bosses to put people’s livelihoods at risk in order to push their pay demands to the front of the queue,’ he said.

‘Nor would it be fair to ask families to pay an extra £1,000 a year to meet the union demands.’

The Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the walkouts would create ‘significant risks’ to patients.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden, is leading emergency cobra meetings about strikes planning this week
Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden, is leading emergency cobra meetings about strikes planning this week. Picture: Getty

He told The Sun: ‘In a winter when we’re worrying about Covid, flu and Strep A – on top of the Covid backlogs – I am deeply concerned about the risks of strike action to patients.’

He said there was ‘trouble brewing this winter’ for the health service, but that patients in need of urgent care would still get seen.

BMA Council deputy chairman Emma Runswick, said since 2008, junior doctors had seen a real-terms pay cut of 26 percent.

Challenged over the size of the pay rise demand, she told Sky News: ‘It’s only as steep as the money that has been cut from us.’

PM Rishi Sunak has previously pledged to bring in "new tough" anti-strike laws.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly confirmed that Mr Sunak was working on measures to strengthen them, including potentially expanding the existing ban on police officers staging walkouts to other emergency services.

He told Times Radio: ‘It is the first duty of the Government to make sure that people are protected.’

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