The former head of the Territorial Army has called for financial incentives and the tightening of UK legislation in a bid to prevent employers from routinely discriminating against reservists during the recruitment process.
In an interview with the Telegraph
, the Duke of Westminister, one of the country’s richest men and a two-star major general who commanded the TA until the start of this month, said that his men were persistently passed over for employment because of a fear that they would be away from the workplace for long periods of time.
“There is undoubtedly positive discrimination against someone who at interview says he is in the Territorial Army,” the Duke attested. “These days, when you have to tick the boxes on the interview sheet, one of the questions is ‘Are you in the Territorial Army?’”
But by law employers were not allowed to ask whether people were pregnant, black, white or Muslim so why should they be able to ask if they were in the TA? he queried.
“It is the most outrageous form of discrimination. It is like asking – ‘do you play golf at weekends?’ It has been mentioned to me by my soldiers on more than 100 occasions,” the Duke said.
But he appeared just as upset by the fact that foreign-based employers seemed happier than their UK counterparts to allow staff to go on three or six month tours of duty in Afghanistan to serve alongside regular British troops.
“Our overseas employers are better than the English employers – I am talking about French, Japanese, Americans and others. All those countries had national service or its equivalent right up to two or three years ago, so there is a service culture built in,” the Duke said.
A key issue was that TA members had made a “lifestyle choice” to be of service to the country and “for any company to be difficult about that, is frankly despicable”, he added.
As a result, the Duke called for the law to be tightened in order to prevent candidates from being asked ‘discriminatory’ questions at interview. He also advised the government to offer tax breaks such as a “National Insurance surcharge relief” for those employers that were prepared to put reservists on the payroll.
“That would be us saying to the employer ‘we recognise that a six-month deployment is tricky, we recognise that we are going to take a person from you, and this is financial compensation’. It will cost hardly anything,” the Duke attested.
But the joy of the scheme was that it would be targeted at the individual. “There is no question about it – the employer benefits and we benefit. He is coming to me to be interviewed with a bit of a liability – ie the Territorial Army – but he is also coming to me with a bit of compensation – the National Insurance surcharge,” he explained.
Although the Duke said that he had raised the idea informally with the Ministry of Defence
about six months ago, however, he was “told to rein my neck in and not say anything more about it”.
But the issue is a timely one due to the UK’s growing future reliance on reservists. By 2020, the size of the regular army will have been cut from 100,000 to 80,000, while the battle-ready strength of the TA will have risen from 20,000 to 30,000 in a bid to make up lost capacity.
Moreover, the MoD is expected to kick-start a wide-ranging review into the TA’s future next month and the Duke’s ideas on how to encourage more employers to release staff are likely to be included.