Ambulance workers could be banned from going on strike under laws being considered by Rishi Sunak, it was revealed this morning after army bosses criticised plans for soldiers to fill the gaps.
The Prime Minister yesterday pledged to ‘protect life and livelihoods’ amid mounting fears about the impact of a co-ordinated wave of strikes this winter.
Top brass have reportedly told ministers it is ‘not right’ for soldiers, who are banned from striking, to fill in for roles over the festive period.
It comes as Mr Sunak accused union chiefs of making unreasonable pay demands and said he had a ‘duty to take action’ to protect the public.
The Prime Minister yesterday pledged to ‘protect life and livelihoods’ amid mounting fears about the impact of a co-ordinated wave of strikes this winter
Army bosses fear the plans for hundreds of soldiers to fulfill paramedic roles could harm the military’s ‘operational capability’.
A source told the Telegraph: ‘You’ve only got to look at a private soldier on £22,000 a year and whose pay scales have not kept up with inflation for the last decade, having to give up Christmas, or come straight off operations, to cover for people who want 19 percent [salary increases] and are already paid in excess of what he or she would be, and it’s just not right.
‘The Government’s first lever it reaches for every time there is any difficulty – whether it’s floods, strikes, all the rest of it – is the Armed Forces, as opposed to it being the last resort.’
A second added it was hypocritical to ‘use public servants who receive one of the smallest pay awards and legally can’t strike, and have no independent advocate body, to cover for public servants who do’.
During angry clashes with Sir Keir Starmer, he branded the Labour leader ‘weak’ and told him to ‘stand up for working people’ by backing a crackdown
It comes as reports suggest Rishi Sunak is considering implementing new laws which would require public bodies such as the NHS to provide a minimum level of service at all times.
Around 2,000 military personnel and volunteers are currently undergoing training to stand in for multiple public sector roles, from ambulance drivers to Border Force officials.
An official request for soldiers to be sent out in ambulances during paramedic strikes on December 21 has not yet been made, reports say.
The standard wage for a soldier at the rank of private is £21,424, compared with £27,055 for a paramedic with less than two years’ experience.
PM Rishi Sunak said at Prime Minister’s Questions: ‘Hard-working families right now in this country are facing challenges. The Government has been reasonable.
‘It’s accepted the recommendations of an independent pay review body, giving pay rises in many cases higher than the private sector.
‘But if the union leaders continue to be unreasonable, then it is my duty to take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public. That’s why, since I became Prime Minister, I have been working for new tough laws to protect people from this disruption.’
During angry clashes with Sir Keir Starmer, he branded the Labour leader ‘weak’ and told him to ‘stand up for working people’ by backing a crackdown. Downing Street declined to comment on the exact proposals that would be brought forward.
But sources confirmed measures being considered include a ban on emergency service workers taking strike action.
A similar ban already applies to the police and armed forces but does not cover blue light services such as firemen – who are also balloting for a strike over pay – and ambulance staff.
Another anti-strike option for the Government would be to amend the Civil Contingencies Act to allow ministers to ban strikes that threaten to trigger a national emergency.
Ministers are also looking at options for limiting the power of militant unions to call out their members.
This could include raising the threshold required in ballots for industrial action and requiring unions to put pay offers to their members. Forcing unions to put pay deals to their members in referendums is another option being looked at.
The Government is already committed to introducing ‘minimum service levels’ in the transport sector. This means union leaders would be forced to ensure a certain number of services run during walkouts to limit their impact. Ministers are looking at expanding the legislation to other sectors.
But they are facing pressure to explain why the legislation, promised in the Tories’ 2019 manifesto, has still not begun its passage through Parliament.
Downing Street later declined to provide a timeline or any details on the new laws Mr Sunak invoked. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said work on new measures was ‘ongoing’ and that ‘we want to do it at speed’.
‘We keep the powers under review and obviously in light of what we are seeing with effectively rolling strikes, the Prime Minister thinks it is right to push ahead with new powers,’ the spokesman told reporters.
Sources said Mr Sunak hoped to announce the package early next year. But Labour has vowed to oppose new strike laws and ministers are anxious about how long legislation could take to put in place.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said Labour’s opposition meant the Government was unable to get its minimum service law through Parliament as quickly as it wanted to. He told MPs on the Commons transport committee: ‘Usually legislation that is pushed through rapidly tends to have to be pushed through when there’s cross-party agreement on that legislation, and that I don’t think is the case here.’
Labour later confirmed it would oppose ‘unworkable’ minimum service laws and said it would repeal the 2016 Trade Union Act if it came to power. This could make it easier for strike ballots to take place.
A spokesman said: ‘The Conservatives are responsible for the state of industrial relations in Britain today.’ Trades Union Congress chief Frances O’Grady accused the PM of ‘attempting cheap political pot-shots’.
She said: ‘The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. Public sector workers would love to be able to deliver minimum service levels. But 12 years of Conservative cuts and mismanagement have left our public services falling apart at the seams.’
Sharon Graham of the Unite union, which represents ambulance staff, said: ‘Rather than dealing with the critical issue of workers suffering pay cuts as prices rocket, he promises to attack the very organisations that are fighting for workers and putting more money in their pockets.’
Yesterday The Mail reported that Labour had accepted £1.6million from unions in the third quarter of this year.