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UK MoD: O2 won't help employees serve in Iraq

O2: Of course we will, but we don't support the war

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Updated The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has mounted a media campaign this week to shame major employers into signing its statement of support for military-reservist employees.

The UK's full-time forces are heavily engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other deployments worldwide. At the same time, their numbers are historically very low. Demand for weekend-warrior reservists has risen correspondingly, and over the past decade it has become almost impossible for the UK to mount major operations without them.

Without their civilian bosses' support, however, it can be difficult for reservists to answer the call: hence the MoD's moves to put pressure on employers. The MoD's "SaBRE" (Supporting Britain's Reservists and Employers) campaign was set up in 2002.

Thus far, according to SaBRE, over 100 companies have signed up. They include:

  • Microsoft UK
  • BT
  • Orange
  • Motorola
  • Cable and Wireless
  • Carphone Warehouse
  • Yell.com

Sir Christopher Bland, BT CEO and former national-service and reserve cavalry officer, visited BT employees serving in Iraq with the Army's 81 Signal Squadron under SaBRE's auspices this week. BT backs its reservists to the hilt, apparently.

Sir Christopher told the Telegraph that BT management makes an effort to "encourage our people to be part of the Reserve Forces, to make it as easy as possible for them to discharge their duties and commitments, and to make sure they are not penalised as a result of time away from work".

They certainly aren't penalised financially.

"We continue to pay them and they get full Army pay and allowances for being abroad," says Bland.

Not bad, it has to be said.

The MoD also seized the chance for a little name-and-shame action, leaking the names of a few firms who had allegedly refused to sign up. These included BT's erstwhile mobile arm, O2.

The arm-twisting appeared to work well, as all the outed firms fell into line the next day when contacted by Telegraph hacks.

"We do fully support reservists and have a written policy to give them time off," squealed an O2 spokesperson, hastily.

"We are happy to publicly confirm that support for them."

When contacted by the Reg, O2 said:

"A number of O2 employees are members of the Territorial Army. Some have already been called up to serve their country in recent years and we have a certificate from the Ministry of Defence in recognition of our support and encouragement of the Volunteer forces.

In response to the original request from SaBRE to participate in the campaign we made it clear that we support reservists (which includes providing them with additional time off work) but that it would not be possible for us to make a public pledge. Like many companies, O2 takes care to act in a politically neutral manner and we felt that such a step could be mis-interpreted as a political gesture.

We are disappointed that the Ministry of Defence is naming companies in this manner, and are unhappy with the implication that we are not supporting our employees. It is more important to do the right thing by our people than to publicise our actions."

Of course, the refusal to sign up with SaBRE could also be interpreted as a political gesture - but that's up to the individual observer.®

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