Strikes: Decision on training troops to drive ambulances ‘not far off’

Politics

A formal request for troops to drive ambulances during strike action could be made within days, Sky News understands.

After a formal request known as a MACA – or Military Assistance to the Civil Authorities – is made to the Ministry of Defence (MOD), training to drive ambulances would begin.

A decision from the Department of Health and Social Care could come as early as this weekend, government sources have told Sky News, who say the decision is “not far off”.

Service personnel have already been training at Heathrow and Gatwick to assist in checking passports at the border.

Elsewhere, in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, rail union leader Mick Lynch requested an urgent meeting in order to try and resolve long-running rail strikes.

Rail union boss Mick Lynch was speaking to Sky's Kay Burley.
Image:
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch

With two 48-hour strikes planned to proceed on 13-14 and 16-17 December, as well as from 6pm on 24 December until 6am on 27 December, Mr Lynch said a meeting would be the “best prospect of any renewed progress”.

Responding to Mr Lynch’s call for a meeting with Mr Sunak, a government spokesperson said that it was “incredibly disappointing” that the RMT continues to hold “Christmas hostage,” despite an improved deal offering “job security and a fair pay rise”.

“The Government has played its part by facilitating a fair and decent offer and the RMT and its members should vote this deal through and end this harmful disruption,” the statement concluded.

More on Strikes

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The union rejected the latest offer of a backdated 5% pay rise this year and 4% from January and no compulsory redundancies until 2025.

On Friday 9 December, the MOD confirmed to Sky News that armed forces personnel arrived at London’s two main airports – Heathrow and Gatwick – earlier this week.

This is to assist with Border Force officers going on strike at the two London airports, as well as airports in Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Port of Newhaven, from 23-26 and 28-31 December after rejecting a 2% pay rise offer from the government.

UK Border Force officers at the NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Northern Ireland Point of Entry (POE) site on Milewater Road in Belfast at the Port of Belfast. Picture date: Monday January 31 2021.

The Cabinet Office said up to 600 military personnel and 700 civil servants were being trained at airports and ports in the event of strike action.

In a visit to an RAF base, Mr Sunak gave a individuals “an enormous debt of gratitude” for stepping in and missing their Christmas.

In a similar sense, more than 10,000 ambulance workers, including paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff, across nine trusts in England and Wales are set to strike on 21 and 28 December.

Unions GMB, Unison and Unite are coordinating the industrial action, also due to a row over pay. If requested, service personnel would be mainly involved in logistical roles rather than taking on any medical duties.

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‘We owe troops over strike support’

This comes after Mr Sunak said he will “do what I need to do in order to keep people safe,” even if this meant banning strikes by emergency services.

Other sectors set to strike over the course of December include civil servants, nurses, driving examiners, Royal Mail workers, national highway workers, and baggage handlers.

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