Reservists gaining ground
Steve Arnold – The Hamilton Spectator;
The last thing a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan should have to think about is keeping a job back home.
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce wants to give that comfort to the country’s reserve soldiers when they’re called into action. In a policy proposal, the business lobby group calls on the federal government to establish a system of tax incentives and other inducements to entice businesses to hold jobs of reservists and make up some of the difference between their military and civilian paycheques.
“We’re doing this because we all realized it’s important to support our reserves who are putting their lives at risk with no assurance their jobs will be there when they get back,” said chamber CEO John Dolbec. “It’s the right thing to do. The government is saving a pile of money by using reservists rather than regular force soldiers.”
Today, 29,000 men and women serve in Canada’s military reserves and about half of them have full- or part-time civilian jobs. They often must use their vacation time for weekends and other times they spend training. Those who volunteer for active duty often face the choice of taking a pay cut or even quitting a job. The only legal protection they have is a law requiring employers to hold their jobs if they’re called out in a general emergency.
Lawyer Lawrence Hatfield faced that last year. A part-time soldier for 18 years, he serves today as a major in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in addition to working with the city’s Morris Law Group. Making his dream of a tour of active duty possible required some serious sacrifices.
His wife, Shari, quit her legal job to take over his practice for the 10 months he was in uniform. That income, plus the salary and allowances he received while in the field, still meant a significant pay cut for a family with two small children.
“There’s no question I lost money because of this, but I just couldn’t stand sitting on my butt and watching the difficulties the troops in Afghanistan were having,” he said.
The experience was different for Geoff Van Ginkel, a corporal in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and a security guard with Securitas Canada in civilian life. He got a pay raise to go to Afghanistan.
“When I was chosen to go, I just e-mailed my boss and said this is when I’m leaving and this is when I’ll be back and there was no trouble,” he said. “He was quite supportive about this, but usually I have trouble getting the weekends off that I need for training exercises. That’s kind of frustrating.”
The time requirements of a reservist vary by unit and job. For the Argylls, it’s one night a week, one weekend a month and one week in the summer for basic duties, plus special courses.
Public policy changes being sought by the Chamber of Commerce still fall short of legal protections provided in the United States, where federal law protects the jobs of reservists on active duty for up to five years. First, though, the U.S. defence department appeals to patriotism and a company’s desire for good exposure.
“We tell them that when they hire reservists, they’re getting a workforce that’s trained and disciplined and that makes them a valued commodity,” said spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Les’ Melnyk. “We also educate, inform and reward the best employers.”
The Canadian Forces Liaison Council is making similar efforts. Earlier this year, it gave WestJet Airlines an award as top employer in Ontario for supporting reservists. “We really believe this is the right thing to do and that reservists are people who really want to serve their country,” said Ken McKenzie, a WestJet executive.
Proposals by the Hamilton chamber include tax incentives to encourage employers to top up pay of reservists for tours lasting up to three weeks, and to give reservists a pro-rated amount of time off so they don’t have to use their vacation time to serve the country.
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