What is a service complaint?

According to the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces, a service complaint is a workplace grievance. It covers wide of area of issues – in dealing with the various ways serving personnel can complain about how they think they have been mistreated in the military. Amongst the areas covered by service complaints are conditions of work, any action taken in respect of inadequate performance At work, and the way in which basic employment related services are delivered – including the payment of wages allowances [or any complaints about military pensions are dealt with by a separate complaint system].

Service complaints are sometimes wider in scope than comparable disciplinary and and grievance systems in non-military businesses. For example, service complaints can include dissatisfaction with any action taken by the military police.

Many such complaints are resolved informally – but some need formal resolution. Military personnel have, however, limited access to civilian Employment Tribunals. By way of example, a serving soldier can make an employment tribunal claim for compensation in respect of unlawful discrimination [though not disability or age discrimination], but employment tribunals don’t have the power to deal with military personnel when it comes to claims of unfair dismissal or for unfair selection for redundancy.

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Service Complaints Commissioner criticises complaint system

The military service complaints system is broken – or at least that’s the message from Dr Susan Atkins, who is the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces. In the forward to the Commissioner’s 2012 annual report published recently, Dr Atkins pulled no punches in her current views in admitting that, “for the fifth year running, I am still unable to say that the service complaint system is working efficiently, effectively or fairly”. Pretty damning stuff.

Dr Atkins also criticises the government’s rejection of her earlier recommendations for a separate Armed Forces Ombudsman, which she said would give an opportunity to increase confidence in serving military personnel that the service complaints system was working fairly, and to optimise the use of limited resources.

Dr Atkins also criticised the delay that continues to bedevil the complaints system – pointing out that by the end of 2012, the army still had 430 cases which have been stuck in the system for over 24 weeks – 24 weeks being the target period in which complaints should be finalised.

The report confirms that in 2012, there were 646 separate complaints made to the Commissioner – up by 23% since 2011 and 49% since 2010. However, many of these complaints were not internally related – but were from members of the public who wanted to complain about behaviour of military personnel.

Amongst the other findings of the 2012 annual report were that although male service personnel, [who provide 90% of regular armed forces manpower], it was female personnel who were more likely to make a complaint with regard to discrimination, bullying, harassment or other improper behaviour. The report also ascertained that, depending on service and seniority, between 20 and 50% of all complaints were upheld – either in whole or in part.

All in all, a fairly negative report from the Commissioner – let’s hope she has something better to say about an improvement in the service complaints system next year.

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Territorial Army – can prospective employers ask if you are a member?

Apparently the coalition government is currently thinking about bringing in legislation which will ban prospective employers from asking anyone at a job interview if they are a member of the Territorial Army or any of the other Reserve Forces.

Why? As part of the government’s plan to cut the number of full-time members of the Armed Forces, they are also considering sharply increasing the number of trained military part-timers – even existing plans mean that by 2020, the UK Army should consist of 112,000 soldiers – but only 82,000 will be full timers, with the remaining 30,000 to be part-time reservists.

However government plans to increase the number of reservists could be hampered by reports that some members of the reserve forces have difficulty getting full-time employment – there are two reasons suggested for this;

1. Some employers don’t want the risk of knowing member of staff could be called up at any time for active military duty

2. Many employers are reluctant, particularly in a time of recession, to see the business disrupted by a staff member’s additional absence for reservist military training – although any reservist may have to take this time off as part of their normal annual leave entitlement – employers have no obligation to grant leave for military training, whether it be paid or unpaid

So the government is considering simply stopping employers from being able to ask whether you are a Forces Reservist at all – presumably introducing it as a new ground for illegal discrimination. Some employers still ask outright if people are Reservists – but it’s more likely to be caught at the moment by an all-encompassing question of “do you have any other work”.

Still, the idea remains just a thought at the moment – only time will tell if the government actually decides to bring it in as law.