Independent staff association for regular, reserve and veteran UK armed forces personnel

Right of Association: French Defence Committee hear UK Naval Attache

A transcript is now available of the evidence given to the French equivalent of the House of Commons Defence Committee on 21 January, 2015 about the right of association for the military personnel of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. This follows the European Court of Human Rights rulings of 2 Oct 2014 against France, and the subsequent Pêcheur recommendation, accepted by President Hollande, that French military personnel should now be permitted the right of association. The Pêcheur report accurately described the independent BAFF as being "tolerated" by the Ministry of Defence.

Below is a rough translation of the evidence given by the final witness, Capt Christopher Clough RN, UK Naval Attaché and Assistant Defence Attaché in Paris.

Captain Christopher Clough. Madam Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, the British position being already described in the report issued on 18 December by Bernard Pêcheur, I will only add a few details about what was said above.

Regarding the rights of political association, all British military may be members of political parties and attend meetings of those parties, subject to not wearing uniform at meetings. However, they do not have the right to take an active part in the running of parties or stand for election. Only reservists have the right to participate actively in political life: currently a dozen British MPs are reservists.

If there is no military union or federation representing the armed forces, military can be a member of an association, even politics. However, it does not have the right to strike. There are a number of independent organizations of the armed forces, for example on the issue of wages, but these organizations act outside the framework of the Ministry of Defence; Furthermore, an independent body advising the Government on pay - it is also the case regarding the salaries of MPs.

There are professional associations addressing certain professional categories - such as doctors or aviation workers - including soldiers involved must be members for the success of their careers and whose fees are paid by the Ministry of Defence.

The Armed Forces Covenant is a political principle on which our Prime Minister David Cameron is keen. Based on the idea that the lives of soldiers and their families is different from that of other members of the society, it implies a particular commitment between the government and the military and has a great influence on the rules applying to military .

Charities also take an important place in the UK. Each year, the Royal British Legion appeals for donations - the Poppy Appeal - to support the families of the dead and wounded soldiers in combat, which collects 40 million pounds per year. The media, in particular tabloid newspapers, tend to support and protect the military against the Government and sometimes against the military hierarchy, especially the generals. From this point of view, they play some of the role of unions by exposing to the public the challenges facing the military, often in very harsh terms for the Government.

The few unions that exist are much less strong than in France, having lost their power in the 1980s, during the period when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

In answer to a question, Capt Clough added that:

I will say that most of the British officers are members of a professional association, and that this has no effect on their careers. However, very few soldiers are members of a union - personally, I have never met a soldier or a sailor who is unionized. In any event, it is a choice within the private sphere - much like the religious beliefs in a secular state.

 

Representation

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Welcome to British Armed Forces Federation - BAFF - independent all-ranks staff association for members of any branch of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army and Royal Air Force, including the reserves. All current UK service personnel of any rank are eligible to join and, as BAFF is not a political organisation, to take an active part in its activities if they wish. Former regular or reserve forces personnel are also very welcome.