Sir George Young Bt, Member of Parliament for North West Hampshire, has taken up the cudgels on behalf of Retired Officers employed by the Ministry of Defence, which has changed its employment terms in ways that are against the national interest as well as damaging to the officers concerned. This article in the Sunday Telegraph, 24th March 2002, discusses the issue and quotes Sir George's correspondence with the Secretary of State.

Cherie Booth tackles Government in age bias case against MoD
. by Sean Rayment

Cherie Booth, the barrister wife of the Prime Minister, has launched an unprecedented legal battle against the Ministry of Defence on behalf of 100 former Army officers fighting age discrimination.

The retired officers, supported by more than 100 MPs and serving defence chiefs, claim that they are being forced out of civilian posts in the MoD at the age of 60. The officers, who range in rank from major to colonel, are regarded by many in the armed forces as "unsung heroes", filling numerous vital backroom posts in military headquarters. In the foot and mouth crisis, many were called upon at short notice to establish emergency headquarters and were praised for playing a crucial role in controlling the spread of the disease. They approached Matrix, Ms Booth's legal chambers in London, because of her expertise in employment law and human rights.

Colonel Robin Gamble, who is leading the campaign, said he met Ms Booth last week. "I must say I was very impressed by her and she told us that this was a case which she thought would run and so we are very enthused by having her as our lead counsel. "She believes we can win and she is not in the least bit concerned about taking on the Government."

The action, at an employment tribunal in the next few weeks, will embarrass the Government. Under an EU directive on employment rights, the Government is supposed to be preparing legislation outlawing age discrimination. More than 1,800 retired officers work for the MoD as civilians after finishing their military careers at the statutory age of 55. About 1,000 are guaranteed employment until the age of 65 while about 800 are employed on fixed-term contracts up to the age of 60. Their contracts are then re-assessed and extended each year for a further five providing certain criteria, such as their being fit, are met. That policy, however, was changed last year under an MoD directive - DCI 99/2001 - which set out a new process which began to result in the termination of contracts once officers reached 60. The proposed change - putting all 1,800 retired officers on fixed-term contracts until the age of 60 or for five years, whichever is sooner - has caused the conflict.

Col Gamble, who joined the Army in 1958 and served with the Royal Green Jackets in Borneo, Aden, Germany and Northern Ireland, said: "We are very sad that we have been forced to proceed down this path. We just want to keep our jobs. We undertook to work for the MoD on the understanding that we would be employed until the age of 60 and after that our terms of employment would be reviewed year on year.

"However, on arrival at the age of 60, we have discovered that the MoD doesn't in fact intend to employ us even if we meet all the conditions of our terms of employment in that we are fit, we are recommended and the job still exists. It is in effect a breach of contract by the MoD."
The Sunday Telegraph has learned that an MoD study into the future of the retired officers, drawn up by Brig Andy Mantell and a group of civil servants, recommended that they should be encouraged to work until 65. It is also understood that Gen Sir Michael Jackson, the commander of UK land forces, lent his support to the report.

Two senior civil servants, however, - Richard Hatfield, the MoD's director of personnel and a permanent undersecretary at the department - have rejected the findings.

In addition to the tribunal move, all 100 retired officers have protested under the MoD's grievance procedure. Sir George Young, the Tory MP for North West Hampshire, who is supporting the action, has written to Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, demanding to know why the contracts of "valued" members of the MoD are being terminated at 60 against a "background of overstretch and shortage of personnel in the armed forces".

Sir George writes: "I have become convinced that there is a real benefit to your department and the country in keeping the scheme as originally conceived. Indeed, given the challenges that now confront your department, I would argue that the scheme needs to be reinforced.
"They [retired officers] are cheaper to employ than serving officers as they are on a lower pay scale and they do not attract service benefits. They add value to the decision-making process by complementing the skills of the Civil Service with an understanding of the military system, chain of command and ethos."

Richard Baker, of Age Concern, who sits on the Department of Trade and Industry's age advisory group, said that the position of the MoD appeared to contradict legislation planned for 2006.

Ms Booth has challenged government policy on numerous occasions. In one of her most high-profile cases she represented the TUC in a legal battle against government policy over the right to take parental leave. Last year the Government conceded that nearly three million parents had been unlawfully excluded.

The MoD last night declined to comment on the impending action.

(c) Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2002. Source: SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 24/03/2002 P5

Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015