(Bloomberg) -- The UK government could use the military to help ease any disruption caused by public sector strikes, according to Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi.

If unions chase wage increases in line with or above inflation, “you will embed inflation for longer and hurt the most vulnerable,” Zahawi said on the “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” show on Sky News. The war in Ukraine has led to very high inflation rates, he said. 

“Our message for the unions is to say this is not a time to strike,” he said. “This is the time to try and negotiate.”

The country is facing a wave of strikes in the run up to Christmas, with workers from the rail network, buses, postal service, health sector and schools set to stage walkouts in their quest for higher wages as the country faces a cost of living crisis.

In the absence of an agreement with unions, the nation needs contingency plans, Zahawi said.

Asked if the military could be used to fill in roles, he said: “We’re looking at the military. We’re looking at a specialist response force, which we’ve actually set up a number of years ago.”

Members of the military could drive ambulances, he said, adding that border security would not be compromised.

On immigration, the government is considering reviving its plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda as a way to deter people smugglers, Zahawi said. Earlier this year, the government called off flights to the African nation after legal challenges.

Putting the Rwanda plan into operation would send a message to gangs and “the moment that happens, you’ll see the numbers begin to drop rapidly,” he said.

Zahawi brushed off the prospect of former prime minister Boris Johnson making another run for the party leadership, saying that the Tories are focused on rebuilding the party following recent political turmoil. 

“Having another leadership election will be a sure fire way of us losing in elections,” he said.

(Updates with quote on Rwanda in ninth paragraph.)

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