Government reveals proposals to make it easier for reservists to take time off work, including anti-discrimination legislation
Companies that discriminate against members of the Territorial Army could be sued under the same kind of laws that protect women and ethnic minorities, ministers have revealed.
It is one of the measures being considered to help bolster the standing of the UK’s reserve force, which is to nearly double in size over the next six years to compensate for cuts to the regular army.
The defence secretary, Philip Hammond, said in a speech that the TA would become “a fundamental part of how we provide military capability”. He announced a range of proposals drawn from a green paper designed to make it easier for reservists to take time off work, and for companies to feel they have an important patriotic role to play by supporting them.
But companies that sideline or take advantage of reservists could pay a price, he said.
“We are proposing to introduce a voluntary charter for employers of reservists, recognising the contribution of good employers. But we will also consider anti-discrimination legislation if we see systematic disadvantage to the reservist in the workplace.”
One way of boosting the strength of the army reserves to 30,000 is to get recent veterans to volunteer for part-time duty, and ministers are considering cash incentives to encourage their return.
The government also wants to boost the number of navy and air force reserves, though by much smaller numbers. Ministers want a maritime reserve of 3,100, and an RAF auxillary of 1,800.
Some reservists could expect to be mobilised for up to one year in every five, once training and deployment has been accounted for.
Hammond said it would not be possible to recruit the number of reservists the military needs without the co-operation of employers and he called for “a fresh start in the relationship between the armed forces and the businesses who employ their reservists”.
Kite-marks for patriotic employers is one idea suggested in the green paper published on Thursday.
The Confederation of British Industry said it had not been properly consulted on the proposals.
“This is the biggest change for reserve soldiers since the second world war,” said the CBI’s director general, John Cridland.
“It is likely to have significant implications for both employers and employees. The CBI stands ready to help the government make these reforms work, but we are disappointed by the lack of proper engagement so far.”
In his speech, Hammond, admitted the reserves had “for too long been the forgotten part of our armed forces”.
“Over the last two decades, our reserves have fought alongside their regular colleagues, in the Balkans, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, taking the same risks, making the same sacrifice, decorated with the same honours and deserving the same recognition … they have been stretched, but have risen to the challenges they have been set.”
Hammond, who intends to rename the TA the “Army Reserve”, said the military was “looking for people who are going to turn out when they’re required to turn out, who are going to do the training they need to do and who are available for deployment”.
“So the message to future reservists is clear, promise us you will make the commitment, turn up regularly to train and be prepared to deploy. And in return, we promise to equip you, train you, fund you and use you as an integral part of the British army.”
Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, said: “We support action to enhance the role of the reserves, but the government can go further to protect our reservists’ patriotism. Anti-discrimination legislation, improved pre-deployment training and better mental healthcare are vital. At a difficult time for many companies, employers must be given the support they need when their workers serve on reserve duty.”
Earlier this year, Hammond announced plans to scrap 17 units and up to 20,000 posts from the army. The cuts were one of the major consequences of a budget squeeze which forced the army into a root-and-branch review, and has left it trying to recruit an enormous number of reserves while pushing full-time soldiers to the door.
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