Armed forces get a voice on their pay and conditions

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The Independent Online

The first professional staff association in the history of the modern British military will be launched today, amid mounting levels of dissatisfaction with pay and conditions in the era of the "war on terror".

The birth of the British Armed Forces Federation (Baff) comes at a time when many in the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force believe they are being overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan by political masters who have failed to back them with sufficient support and funding.

In a sign that the Army hierarchy is moving to address rank-and file grievances, it was revealed yesterday that troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are to awarded millions in compensation after a Government ruling that they are victims of crime.

While servicemen and women continue to engage in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the official cessation of hostilities - in May 2003 in Iraq - gives them the legal right to criminal compensation.

In series of test cases likely to pave the way for many more, 40 servicemen have been awarded up to £500,000 each. Compensation is expected to range from £1,000 for injuries such as small facial scars to half a million for loss of limb. The new scheme will apply to troops remaining in the military who have been injured in terrorist attacks such as roadside bombs but is expected to exclude those wounded in offensive operations against insurgents.

Last week, retired General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the Army, accused the Government of failing to give the forces "whole-hearted support" or adequate funding. He said failure to deliver improvements to living accommodation, pay and equipment threatened the "ethos of soldiering" which made them willing to put their lives at risk for their country.

The care of injured soldiers will be a key issue issue on which Baff will campaign. The idea of a virtual "union" was came up in a blog on the unofficial Army Rumour Service website in January. Under the name "Glad it's all over", a former senior NCO, Henrik Kiertz-ner, wrote: "There seems to be a gap in the market for a body which could lobby on behalf of the serviceman/woman, and address some of the more dimwitted ideas our lords and masters come up with."

Douglas Young, the chairman of Baff, said it was not a trade union and would not condone industrial action. "People in the armed forces work only by co-operation with others and that is the spirit with which we will go forward," he said.

Membership will cost about £30 a year.