Nothing, it seems, will be immune from the peaking of the state. Even the armed forces, the state’s original raison d’être, will be scaled back. By 2020, the government aims to have reduced the size of the army by 20 percent.
Under these plans, the resulting gap in the UK’s defence capability is to be plugged by the reserve forces. This means increasing their size and capability significantly. The Territorial Army will need to double in size and its members will require a lot more training. All of this depends on the goodwill of employers. The former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, warned that employers may prove reluctant to give reserve soldiers time off for training and deployment.
I couldn’t find any research into employer attitudes to the reserve forces but it is an area of concern for some soldiers. This Chief of General Staff report comments:
There is a belief that there is a reduction in support for mobilisation from employers.
Some TA officers I spoke to a few years ago reckoned that there was a change in employer attitudes in the 1990s. They blamed this on a generational shift. Until the 90s, thanks to post-war conscription, most directors and senior managers had seen military service and looked favourably on the Territorial Army. As they began to retire, the baby boomers, with their more ambivalent attitude to the armed forces, took over. It was at this point, the officers explained, that it became harder for soldiers to get time off work and, in some cases, employer discrimination against TA members increased.
It is a plausible hypothesis, though hard to prove. Nevertheless there is a view among some members of the reserve forces that employers view them unfavourably.
The legal rights of TA members are limited. While employers are obliged to grant time off for duties as magistrates, councillors and school governors, no such obligation exists for those in the reserve forces. Employers must release workers and keep their jobs open when they are officially called up for service but there is no automatic right to time off for training.
And it is the training that makes the soldiers. Without it, the reserve forces have no hope of stepping up to their new role. Unless employers are prepared to release their staff, the Coalition’s 2020 defence plans will be ruined.
Which is why the government is considering new laws to protect the employment rights of those in the reserve forces. This is the same government that has been trying to reduce employment rights and has been kicking up a fuss about an EU ruling which might allow some employees extra time off. Despite all its rhetoric about the burden of regulation, in its quest to save money on its defence budget, the Coalition may have to enact new employment laws. Ironic or what?
It’s a question of priorities, of course. Real war is far more important than the phoney war on red-tape.