The number of “weekend warriors” resisting their call-up for active service has soared to a new high, as the Government lays out plans to double the number of reservists to help cover for the thousands of soldiers being sacked from the regular forces.
Almost 300 members of the Territorial Army (TA) managed to have their call-out delayed or revoked last year – double the total recorded the year before.
And the number of employers attempting to hold on to staff who had received their mobilisation orders showed a four-fold increase during the same period.
Details of the increased number of reservists attempting to avoid being mobilised, often into conflict zones, have raised questions over the Government’s chances of changing the structure of the Army to achieve “a much greater reliance on a fully integrated reserve”.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) insisted the figures had been inflated by the growing size of the reserve forces, and the extra demands of maintaining security at the London Olympics last year.
But employers and opposition politicians claimed the increase exposed a growing frustration over the number of call-outs of reservists in recent years, and their effect on individual workers and their companies.
“The increased number of mobilisations in times of conflict puts extra pressure on employers, particularly in smaller companies,” said Alexander Ehmann<C, ok>, of the Institute of Directors (IOD).
“It is not about the money. A lot of these appeals will be from companies who do not believe they can manage their workload when they lose a key member of staff for months at a time.”
Under current arrangements, TA soldiers who have full-time or part-time jobs attend training sessions, for which they are paid about £35 a day, in their own free time. They have to commit to between 19 and 27 training days a year and, if they meet this commitment, get a tax-free bounty, ranging from £424 to £2,098.
But they are also liable to be called up for extended service lasting for several months.
Employers are allowed to object to call-outs if they believe losing a member of staff for months at a time would seriously affect their businesses. They have to make an application for deferral or exemption to an adjudication officer and, if the ruling goes against them, they can take their case to an independent Reserve Forces Appeal Tribunal.
MoD figures obtained by the Independent on Sunday show that 198 TA members had their call-ups revoked in 2012, and 101 managed to have their mobilisation deferred, compared to 75 in each category in 2011.
But the number of successful objections from bosses unwilling to let their staff go away for extended periods, sometimes into war-zones, mushroomed from 14 to 57 in the same period.
Despite the figures, the MoD said it would be “completely misleading” to suggest that more reservists and employers were resisting call-outs.
“We are increasing our number of reserves to a trained strength of 35,000 by 2020, so it is only natural that we will see slightly more people apply for an exemption,” a spokesman said.
“We recognise that balancing a civilian life and serving your country can sometimes be challenging but we are committed to improving this. We will shortly be publishing a White Paper setting out how we will build a new relationship with reservists and employers based on openness, predictably and mutual benefit.”
But the plan to double the size of the TA while the regular Army’s strength is cut by 20,000 to 82,000 has raised concerns about pressure on employers in the future. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has suggested companies could be offered “cash incentives” to release their staff.
But Mr Ehmann said: “We are really trying to work with the Government on this, but doubling the size of the reserves is asking an awful lot of employers.”
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said employers were “an essential part of realising the reservist plan”, but he warned that many bosses – and reservists – were sceptical of the proposals.
He added: “Reservists’ longer training and deployment periods must be compatible with employment patterns but ministers are failing to bring forward concrete proposals. Labour supports legislation to protect reserves in the workplace and greater transparency over deployment so employers can plan ahead.
“It is essential that personal and business circumstances are able to be taken in to account in deployment decisions but more must be done to support those who volunteer to defend our country.”