It was announced last week that the Armed Forces will be experiencing cuts, with a drive by the Government to reduce the current number of soldiers as part of a cost saving exercise. How short-lived its gratitude for stepping into the Olympics! To keep the Forces well stocked and ensure the Army has sufficient resources, however, the Army Reserves, (previously known as the Territorial Army) will undertake a recruitment drive to push its complement from 23,000 to 35,000 by 2018.
The Army Reserves are called upon by the MOD when additional resources are required. They are mobilised and sent to active service away from their normal day to day jobs. Such mobilisations can be for up to a year, leaving employers with a gap in their work force and a sudden need for temporary employment cover. The Reserves must currently train for a minimum of 27 days of the year (15 of these to run concurrently). This minimum training will rise to 40 days a year, though it is not uncommon for Reservists to go on up to 50 additional training days.
The consultation, “Future Reserves 2020” will close in January 2013 and a White Paper will be issued next year. The consultation dedicates a whole section to the issue of Reservist employment and how the MoD can support employers if one of their employees is called up for duty.
How are employers expected to cope this this additional complication? The prospect of a new form of ‘discrimination’ has been raised together with a kite mark for employers that are ‘Reservist Friendly’. John Cridland, the Director General of CBI has raised concerns about how businesses will manage with the longer absences.
The MoD claims that employees will be returned with additional skills and qualities that will be invaluable for businesses such as leadership, management, people skills, IT and the ability to work under pressure. Employers will not have to pay employees for their period of absence as the MoD will pay the Reservists throughout their deployment. Financial support will also be provided to employers who need to take on a temporary employee during the Reservist’s absence.
Employers will have the option of appealing against a deployment if it will have a serious impact on their business, and the MoD has stated that it will give employers 28 days’ notice of any mobilisation of their employees. However this may be more difficult where Reservists are called up at short notice to deal with disasters following bad weather or other unpredictable events such as terror attacks (or the meltdown of G4S!).
The training will also be an issue for employers. Should the requirement go up to 40 days, employers will have to decide whether they will allow additional annual leave for these employees, or require them to use their existing annual leave and take days unpaid. The Civil Service currently allows 10 days for Reservist employees, and there may be peer pressure to provide such an allowance through patriotic and emotive advertising campaigns, such as, ‘Why isn’t your organisation helping our forces’. Large businesses may be able to absorb the cost of such absences; however, the potential impact on smaller businesses should not be underestimated.
Army Reservists have stated that employers have mixed reactions to their status and as a result some admit they do not declare their involvement with the Army until they are through the recruitment stages and have started their employment. An employee called up on active service during employment is at present entitled to return to the same role and on equally favourable terms and conditions similar to women returning from maternity leave. Employers need to ensure they can react in a manner that will protect and preserve their business. This will require preparation. Preparation requires knowledge. By being ‘Reservist Friendly’ employers may encourage disclosure and so avoid being caught short when staff have to disappear.
SaBRE (Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers), has a very good website which sets out the information that employers need to know and addresses concerns that they may have. Employers are being encouraged to feed back in relation to the consultation exercise and look to see whether their business is prepared for employing a Reservist. Incorporating a Reservist Policy into HR documentation allows a business to set out how it will treat Reservists in a fair and consistent manner and how mobilisation will be dealt with. SaBRE also publishes a list of ‘Reservist Friendly’ employers who have already signed up.
Employers will receive information packs on mobilisation but it is important for businesses to know their rights and what to expect before a ‘call out’ notice is received. In light of the consultation recommendations and the fact that 27,000 reservists have been mobilised since 2003, employers should ensure they are well informed, prepared and know what their obligations are so they are not caught out should any of their employees be called up.