March 16, 2007
Commonwealth soldiers form union


Soldiers from the Commonwealth serving in the British army are so dissatisfied with their treatment they are to form a union, the BBC has learned.

The move comes amid complaints of widespread racism, unfair treatment and a lack of welfare support.{{more}}

The union, while powerless to strike or negotiate, will give advice to members.

The Ministry of Defence said there was no evidence of endemic racism in the Army and special provision was offered to the 6,000 Commonwealth soldiers.

Belize-born Marlon Clancy, who is setting up the British Commonwealth Soldiers’ Union, joined the Army in 1999 and said on one occasion he had been attacked in his barracks by other soldiers dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan.

“They were saying they were going to take the ‘nigger’ to burn. That black people never used to have rights, they shouldn’t have rights now,” he said.

Mr Clancy, still a serving soldier, said his complaints were not acted on.

“Nothing was done. Because I made the complaint I was further victimised.

“As a serving soldier myself, personally, I have gone through the chain of command time and time again within the seven-and-a-half years I have been in the Army and time and time again the chain of command have failed me.”

One issue was preferential treatment for courses and promotions, he said.

“Commonwealth soldiers are third-class soldiers. First you have the British-born white soldier, then you have the British-born black soldier, then last you have the black Commonwealth soldier.

“In some units, the white soldiers will be given priority for courses over the black soldiers, and the black soldier – no matter how long he’s been in, if he has been in four years longer than the white soldier – he will be put behind the white soldier,” he told the BBC.

Recent years have seen the number of servicemen and women from Commonwealth countries swell as the MoD struggles to recruit people born in the UK.

In 2000, there were just 435 from the Commonwealth but that figure has since risen to 6,000 – the bulk of whom are from Fiji.

Last year, the British Armed Forces Federation was set up to lobby on behalf of all members of all the services, but many of the Commonwealth soldiers spoken to by the BBC had not heard of it.

The adjutant-general, Lt Gen Freddie Viggers, the Army’s personnel chief, told BBC News that the stories he had heard were disturbing and that episodes of “bad behaviour” would be investigated.

“We do take all allegations and incidents of harassment or discrimination on grounds of race or gender or religion very seriously. It is bad behaviour and it is not good enough in a professional army.”

He said the Army’s improvements in dealing with all personnel had been recognised.