IEA - Wrong for soldiers to bear the brunt of “union intransigency”
Professor Len Shackleton, labour market expert at free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs Comments on the ongoing industrial action and threats of further strikes, including paramedics and ambulance workers
“Health and defence officials are said to be working on contingency strategies that could involve military personnel being brought in to drive ambulances and replace some striking hospital workers.
“Our armed forces have difficult, often dangerous and generally poorly-paid jobs. They are not allowed to strike. The military will always, rightly, have to be called upon in the case of genuine civil emergencies. They provide a highly professional and effective back-up to civilian services. But they should not have to be deployed to cover for strikers, particularly at a time, like the present, of international tension.
“The current wave of planned industrial action by doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, firefighters and other crucial public sector employees may turn out to be a temporary phenomenon and will fall away as inflation falls back. If, however, we get into a regular cycle of militant action in essential services, as happened in the 1970s, the government would be well-advised to consider measures such as compulsory arbitration or extending strike bans.
“Already police and prison officers cannot strike. In many European countries with impeccable democratic credentials, a much wider group of workers cannot strike than is the case in the UK – many civil servants in Denmark and Germany, for example.
“Public sector workers are on average paid more than private sector workers. Few if any took pay cuts or lost their jobs during the Covid pandemic. They are covered by comprehensive pay reviews conducted by independent bodies. At a time of financial stringency resulting from the after-effects of lockdown and the impact of the Ukraine war on energy prices many of the current pay claims are clearly unaffordable and irresponsible.
“Our soldiers should not be used to fill in gaps in crucial emergency services caused by union intransigency. The government should be making this point loudly and clearly.”
Notes to editors
IEA spokespeople are available for interview and further comment.
The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.
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