NADHIM Zahawi has claimed that industrial action is playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands as he said the military is on standby to take the place of striking workers.

Nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are set to strike on December 15 and 20. 

This comes amid a series of ongoing disputes across various industries which has included rail workers, Royal Mail employees and university lecturers and staff. 

Speaking on Sky News, Zahawi said: “They [nurses] do an incredible job, of course I understand that but to ask for 19% pay rise which will cost the NHS £10 billion, I think it’s the wrong thing to do right now.”

Inflation is currently running at a record high of 11% with host Sophy Ridge challenging Zahawi on people simply trying to get a fair deal amid the cost-of-living crisis. 

He said: “The Chancellor came to the dispatch box and delivered a £150 billion energy package.

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“By the way if you take that into equivalent, that’s the equivalent of the while of the NHS to support people’s households, otherwise their energy bills will have spiked, to support businesses as well, the money we’re putting into helping those most vulnerable, the eight million most vulnerable households. 

“We have to come together, this is not a time to be divided to, to I hope send a very clear message to Mr Putin that he can’t use energy as a weapon in this way and we will remain united which is why we’ve accepted the pay review bodies of the NHS and on schools.”

He added: “Our message to the unions is to say, ‘this is not a time to strike, this is a time to try and negotiate.”

Responding to the comments, RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “Using Russia’s war in Ukraine as a justification for a real-terms pay cut for nurses in the UK is a new low for this government. 

“The public does not believe this kind of rhetoric and wants ministers to address our dispute.”

He added that nursing staff “fear the worst on energy this winter” and that their campaign was a “cry for help for an NHS that’s had a decade of neglect”.

Cullen continued: “Record numbers of nurses are leaving because they feel undervalued and patients are paying the price.

“Ten days until our strike action is due to begin, I reiterate my commitment to meeting with ministers to address our dispute. 

“Instead of negotiating with nurses, they are choosing strike action.”

SNP MP John Nicolson was also among those to slam Zahawi for his comments. Writing on Twitter, he said: "Everyone knows, of course, that Putin is watching UK nurse pay very closely. If the nurses stand down that’s his #Ukraine adventure over. Seriously? What planet does Tory High command live on?"

With no breakthrough in negotiations with the Royal College of Nursing, Zahawi confirmed the government was making plans to bring in military personnel. 

He said: “It is the right and responsible thing to do to have contingency plans in place. 

“We have a very strong team at Cobra who are doing a lot of the work in looking at what we need to do to minimise the disruption to people’s lives. 

“We are looking at the military, we are looking at a specialist response force which we set up a number of years ago.”