Ministers hold emergency Cobra meeting amid wave of strikes
The government have been discussing contingency plans for upcoming strikes, including using the military and civil servants to cover Border Force staff, at an emergency Cobra meeting. The armed forces will also be deployed to hospital trusts ahead of an ambulance strike, the government says.
But Downing Street warned there would still be “serious disruption”.Cobra is an emergency response committee made up of ministers, civil servants and others.
It comes amid a wave of strikes over pay this month from nurses, paramedics, rail workers, and Border Force staff. Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden, who chaired the meeting, urged unions to call off the strikes.
He said the government had been “fair and reasonable” by honouring the recommendations of independent pay review bodies. Mr Dowden said ministers were “straining every sinew” to minimise the risks from strikes but it would never been able to eliminate them.
The prime minister’s official spokesman stressed that even with members of the armed forces driving ambulances, the number available to attend calls would be reduced “significantly”.
The country is facing “a challenging number of days”, he said. Border Force officers employed by the Home Office are set to walk out at Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff airports for eight days from 23 December to New Year’s Eve.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) – who represent 75% of all passport control staff – voted to take action in support of a 10% pay rise which they say will help border workers who are “struggling with the cost-of-living crisis”.
Some military personnel are already being trained up as part of contingency planning in a bid to avoid widespread disruption at Christmas.
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