independent professional staff association for UK forces personnel

March 2007: 'Commonwealth soldiers form union'

BAFF would be glad to hear from anyone affected by the issues raised in the BBC article below. Membership of the British Armed Forces Federation is available to any serving or retired members of HM Forces whatever their nationality, residence status, or place of birth.

The story below was published in March 2007, a few months after the launch of BAFF. In a televised interview at the time on BBC News 24, our Chairman emphasised that the newly-formed BAFF was for all members of the British armed forces, regardless of nationality or place of birth. He felt that a separate body for Commonwealth citizens could be seen as having a racial basis, and as potentially divisive.

However, our Chairman defended the right of armed forces personnel to form an association (not a trade union) operating openly and within the law, if that was their wish, and he offered BAFF help if they needed it.

We have not heard anything more about a Commonwealth Soldiers' Union, and we understand that the serving soldier mentioned in the BBC story has since left the Army.

(BBC News) Wednesday, 7 March 2007
Soldiers from the Commonwealth serving in the British army are so dissatisfied with their treatment they are to form a union, the BBC has learned.
The move comes amid complaints of widespread racism, unfair treatment and a lack of welfare support.
The union, while powerless to strike or negotiate, will give advice to members.
The Ministry of Defence said there was no evidence of endemic racism in the Army and special provision was offered to the 6,000 Commonwealth soldiers.
Belize-born [Name omitted for privacy reasons], who is setting up the British Commonwealth Soldiers' Union, joined the Army in 1999 and said on one occasion he had been attacked in his barracks by other soldiers dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan...
Mr [Name], still a serving soldier, said his complaints were not acted on.
"Nothing was done. Because I made the complaint I was further victimised.
"As a serving soldier myself, personally, I have gone through the chain of command time and time again within the seven-and-a-half years I have been in the Army and time and time again the chain of command have failed me."
Rising numbers
"Commonwealth soldiers are third-class soldiers. First you have the British-born white soldier, then you have the British-born black soldier, then last you have the black Commonwealth soldier.
"In some units, the white soldiers will be given priority for courses over the black soldiers, and the black soldier - no matter how long he's been in, if he has been in four years longer than the white soldier - he will be put behind the white soldier," he told the BBC.
Recent years have seen the number of servicemen and women from Commonwealth countries swell as the MoD struggles to recruit people born in the UK.
In 2000, there were just 435 from the Commonwealth but that figure has since risen to 6,000 - the bulk of whom are from Fiji.
Last year, the British Armed Forces Federation was set up to lobby on behalf of all members of all the services, but many of the Commonwealth soldiers spoken to by the BBC had not heard of it.
The adjutant-general, Lt Gen Freddie Viggers, the Army's personnel chief, told BBC News that the stories he had heard were disturbing and that episodes of "bad behaviour" would be investigated.
"We do take all allegations and incidents of harassment or discrimination on grounds of race or gender or religion very seriously. It is bad behaviour and it is not good enough in a professional army."
He said the Army's improvements in dealing with all personnel had been recognised.

BAFF article revised May 2009.


Tags: Representation Foreign and Commonwealth

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