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Government Warned Making Soldiers Cover Ambulance Strikes Will Worsen Army Recruitment Crisis

The sight of soldiers driving ambulances during this month's strikes will put off people joining the Armed Forces (Alamy)

3 min read

Senior ex-military figures have warned that soldiers being deployed over the picket line to drive ambulances during this month’s strikes will “exacerbate the recruitment crisis” in the Armed Forces.

Around 750 military personnel will help cover for 10,000 paramedics taking part in industrial action planned for 21 and 28 December.

Troops might also be called in to work in passport control over Christmas after Border Force staff agreed to eight days of strike action in the long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

The former First Sea Lord told PoliticsHome there is no doubt soldiers will be “pissed off” about their role in the strikes, as the government faces criticism for involving them in a political row with trade unions

“The government have been very cavalier about cutting the military, and yet here we are now again saying we need you,” Lord West, who was chief of the Naval Staff said. 

He noted that those who will be called up to cover for workers striking over pay are on low wages themselves, but believed they would not have a choice but to stand in for those on strike where needed.

“The fundamental is that in the military, as long as there's a lawful order, your job is to do the order of the government, we work for the government, not for not for ourselves, not for the military outfit,” he added.

“[The military are] a bit pissed off, but they will do their duty.”

Richard Foord, Liberal Democrat MP and a former British Army officer, said that getting soldiers involved in this way could act as a deterrent to people who might have considered a career in the military.

“We risk now seeing an exacerbated recruitment crisis and retention crisis in the Armed Forces,” he explained. “People don't join up to drive ambulances.” 

He felt that the Armed Forces are “being used to bail out the government” and are being “dragged into politics”.

“I heard in the House of Commons chamber yesterday one of the Conservative MPs talked about the Armed Forces enjoying these so called MACA [military aid to civilian authorities] arrangements," Foord said.

“I think, on reflection, that may have been true in normal times when the rmed orces were fully-staffed, and we were talking about a time when it was helping with a national emergency.

“But I think the Armed Forces recognise probably that the government has put itself in an industrial dispute that it didn’t do enough early on to avert, and has had to ask the MoD to try and get it out of hot water.”

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday this weekend, Lord Richard Dannatt, the former head of the army, warned that soldiers being forced to miss Christmas plans as a result of covering for strikers could lead to damaged morale and cause some to quit.

“Soldiers might decide they’ve port control at several major airports over Christmas, said it would be "completely wrong” for the government to bring in the military.

He said he wrote to Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, head of the Armed Forces, warning it would be an “outrage” if soldiers “are essentially brought in to strike break for public sector workers on poverty pay”.

He added: “The idea that the military, in full military dress, will be there to meet people at passport checks at our airports is an affront not just to the people coming into this country but to the skilled workers.

“You cannot train someone to do that job in a matter of days, it’s quite a complex job.”

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey suggested ministers are "too often using our Armed Forces to bail out their own departments' failures” in the Commons yesterday.

But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Labour should tell its "union paymasters to not go on strike over Christmas and not ruin the lives of our soldiers and sailors".

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