Part-time soldiers to fight MoD for pensions

Members of Britain's 40,000-strong Territorial Army could all become entitled to military pensions after a landmark claim being brought against the Ministry of Defence by soldiers who served in the Gulf War and Balkans conflict.

The test case, brought by 10 part-time servicemen and women, could cost the Government millions of pounds in compensation.

The claimants allege they have been denied pensions even though they believed they had contributed to the Army Pension Fund from their part-time salaries.

If they win their case at the employment tribunal in London next year, the MoD would no longer be able to deny part-time servicemen and women the right to retirement payouts.

Fox Hayes, the Leeds law firm representing the soldiers, said yesterday: "We have lodged a complaint against the MoD after discovering that despite serving up to 126 days each year, including service in the Balkans and Gulf War and even though the Army led them to believe they were paying into the Army Pension Fund from their military salaries, their service entitles them to no Army pension rights upon retirement."

The case is being fought under the laws of sex discrimination and equal pay for part-time workers, and is likely to embarrass the Government. Last month ministers announced a campaign to recruit thousands more part-time soldiers, sailors and airmen. The recruitment drive was launched after Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, admitted that the Government had made a mistake in cutting the Territorial Army by more than a quarter in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. He said that, in the aftermath of 11 September, he was glad that the TA had not been fully cut from its previous strength of 56,000 to the 41,200 set by the review.

Michael Morse, a partner at Fox Hayes, said: "Men and women in the TA have been led to believe that they are an integral part of the modern British Army and in return they make a huge commitment. Their job titles and roles are no different from regular service men personnel, and many become senior officers with regulars serving under them. Now it seems the MoD is telling them that they are only playing weekend warrior after all."

He said that the MoD had even denied that TA members were protected by part-time legislation, yet the Army's own website referred to them as part-time.

"A commitment of up to and over 100 days' paid service for your country each year for up to 40 years in some cases should at least bring this much recognition," he added.

One of the claimants, Danny Connor, a retired TA member who was in the 102 (Clyde) Air Support Squadron of the Royal Engineers (Volunteers), said yesterday: "After dedicating over 20 years of my life to the TA and having my Army pay docked for the value of a pension the MoD has just turned around and said 'cheerio' without giving anything back. A lot of my colleagues who have served in the TA also feel this is an injustice, especially when the Government has changed the law to entitle civilian part-time workers to holiday pay, sick pay and pensions."

The legal action is being backed by the Gulf War Veterans Association. Shaun Rustling, chairman of the organisation, said: "It is time the Government realised that its part-time staff should get the same rights as civilian part-time staff, and implement proper pension rights.

"Many of these servicemen and women give up to 50 hours a week to the TA – how that cannot be regarded as part-time, I do not know."

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