Saturday 28 May 2022

The British Armed Forces Federation (BAFF) aims to operate as a professional staff association. It is not, and does not aim to be, a military trade union.

Following several surveys and the BAFF Steering Group's consultations with personnel about the BAFF Constitution, BAFF has always taken the position that traditional trade union status would not be the right format for a body representing British armed forces personnel.

That doesn't mean that BAFF is opposed to the existence of trade unions within the public service;  that would be a political position beyond our remit.

It's also true that many other professional staff associations are registered as trade unions under the relevant legislation, without the words "trade union" in their organisational titles.

It can be argued that there is no fundamental technical reason why a recognised representative body could not be a registered trade union operating within appropriate parameters and subject to necessary and proportionate restrictions reflecting the unique responsibilities of the armed forces for public safety and national defence,  but our position is based on the views consistently expressed by personnel themselves.

At present Queen's Regulations only authorise Regular service personnel to "become members of civilian trade unions and professional associations in order to enhance their trade skills and professional knowledge and as an aid to resettlement into civilian life."

Current UK legislation authorising the registration of trade unions simply does not apply to service personnel, who are not classed as "employees".

However, the military trade union question has nothing to do with fantasy activities such as "going on strike" or "voting on battlefield decisions".

Such activities only exist in the minds of those who have no knowledge of the issue, or are happy to make things up.

Representative military associations in different countries have many things in common, including the need for some form of corporate legal identity, but there is no "one size fits all" solution.

Some military associations are expressly excluded by their national laws from registration as trade unions. Others might not be welcomed by their national trade union movements.

But there are other countries whose servicemen and women have been operating robustly alongside British forces, such as Denmark (1) (2) (3) (4), whose representative military associations do have trade union status under their own national laws.

Thus EUROMIL, the European Organisation of Military Associations has both trade unions and non-trade unions among its member associations. [Update 2019: Indeed EUROMIL has renamed itself as the European Organisation of Military Associations and Trade Unions.] EUROMIL emphasises that:
Military associations entirely respect and abide by the chain of command, and neither condone or support insubordination and mutiny. Associations do not intend to comment on strategic or operational matters.

There are echoes there of the BAFF Constitution, which says:

Industrial action, insubordination, disobedience, etc specifically prohibited

The Federation shall not condone, encourage or take part in any form of industrial action by its members or insubordination by any members towards their superiors in the chain of command, and shall not commit or procure the commission by any person of any service offence, including mutiny, failure to suppress mutiny, misconduct towards a superior officer, disobedience of lawful commands, or conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.

The real point is that NO legal representative military association in any European country - including those associations which DO have trade union status - has ever been involved in industrial action.

It remains for those against representation to explain why they expect British service personnel to participate in industrial action, when the members of representative military associations in other Western countries - including those with trade union status - never have.