Hundreds of soldiers have been told their Christmas leave is canceled for the second year in a row after they were recruited to replace striking Border Force guards.
Troops who served in Covid wards during the Omicron wave last year are being asked to fill in at airports. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has announced strikes among Border Force personnel from December 23 to Boxing Day and from December 28 to New Year’s Eve.
Some 100 troops have arrived at Gatwick and Heathrow, where they will remain until the end of the strikes in the new year. Some are staying in hotels.
The soldiers are being trained to check passports and detect cases of modern slavery. In total, 600 people have been recruited to replace the striking Border Force personnel.
Hundreds of soldiers will also be sent to drive ambulances and provide logistical support in an effort to limit the impact of coordinated attacks on the NHS. The Ministry of Defense is about to grant a request from the Department of Health for military support under the protocol for military aid to civil authorities, known as Maca.
During the pandemic, soldiers issued PPE and set up mobile testing units under the same arrangement.
For some of the troops recruited to help at airports, Christmas was one of the last chances to see their families before leaving next year on six-month deployments abroad. Members of the armed forces cannot strike by law.
They have been given a 3.75 percent pay raise this year, while Border Force workers are demanding a 10 percent raise. A private in the army earns £21,424 a year compared to a starting salary of £21,431 for a Border Force officer.
Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said soldiers taking over for striking workers deserved thanks. “We all owe the military a big thank you. Not only do they keep us safe and do the hardest work and often away from their families, but they are also the backup,” she told BBC Radio 4. “They have a sense of duty, they have no entitlement. not to hit either. They don’t hit. Duty to our country is what our military do.”
But Lord Dannatt, the former army chief, said it was “unreasonable” for the government to ask soldiers deploying abroad to cancel Christmas for striking workers. “Why should a soldier cover an ambulance driver? The government has to be careful or it risks seriously cutting off the soldiers,” he said.
“If there is a natural disaster, everyone understands why the military should help the blue light services. But in the context of labor disputes that many people think the government could resolve but for political reasons choose not to, the military becomes a surrogate for striking workers. That’s starting to get pretty controversial.
“As the military has gotten smaller and continues to be very busy, they have much less capacity available. It is unreasonable to think that the soldiers who will be deployed in the new year can work before leaving.”
Robert Clark, a former soldier and director of defense at Civitas, a think tank, said: “Once again, the military is being used as a convenient political outlet, while other public sector bodies, which may attack, do so. trying to earn more than four times the pay raise the military has had.
“Soldiers are on operations, Christmas is a special time of year for them and their families, and they never complain about the low wages inherent in their work. Compounding problems are the dwindling numbers of the army; cannot afford to lose more good men and women, which will inevitably lead to covering these strikes.”