Two dozen British reservists lose jobs while on active duty

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The Independent Online

At least two dozen Territorial Army veterans of the Iraq war were sacked by their employers in Britain while they were on active duty, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

None of the sacked soldiers has been given any legal or financial help to win their jobs back by the Ministry of Defence - provoking furious criticism from senior MPs and military welfare agencies.

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, faces a grilling from MPs on the defence select committee on Wednesday when he gives evidence with the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson - himself a former reservist.

Bruce George, the chairman of the Labour-dominated committee, was shocked by the disclosure and warned it could severely undermine morale inside the Territorial Army and worry the families of reservists.

"First they're going away from home for months, they could get killed and, when they get back, they mightn't even be in a job. What sort of pressure is that on a soldier? They're risking their necks and risking their jobs," he said.

Mr George and the Royal British Legion said the issue had been given greater urgency by the decision to use reservists and TA members on the front line to an even greater degree in the future. Up to 20 per cent of the Army could be reservists in future wars.

Traditionally dismissed by regular soldiers as "weekend warriors", TA soldiers are now seeing long-term service in Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan, alongside regular military battalions. More than 10,000 reservists were called up for Iraq and at least four TA members were killed there, including Corporal Dewi Pritchard, 35, a Royal Military Police reservist from Bridgend, shot dead in a gun battle in Basra in August 2003. A Scots reservist from Govan in Glasgow, Fusilier Russell Beeston, was shot dead in another incident several days later.

The British Legion said companies were being allowed to exploit a weakness in the Reserve Forces Act 1985. While it makes it illegal to sack a TA member because they have been mobilised, the Act says reservists have to take legal action on their own - without any financial or legal support from the MoD.

Jean Taylor, a logistics expert with the TA, was laid off last May by Gwynned Shipping after nearly a year on duty in Iraq and the UK. She has used up her savings to fight for reinstatement and compensation - a case which has yet to be settled.

Ms Taylor, one of more than half a dozen sacked Iraq veterans who have complained to the British Legion, said: "The MoD can force me to go on duty. If I didn't turn up, I could be charged or jailed but they won't force employers to give us our jobs back. It stinks."