Military staff reject foreign duty ultimatum

Over 600 of the 16,000 people employed by the Swedish Armed Forces have rejected signing a new employment contract which includes a obligation to serve overseas when required.

Military staff reject foreign duty ultimatum

This means that the 600 employees, around 3.5 percent of Armed Forces staff risk being made redundant on the grounds of shortage of work.

“There is also a hidden figure of around 350 people who have not replied,” said human resources director Per-Olof Stålesjö in a web broadcast to staff.

These people will now be re-contacted, Sålesjö said.

The Armed Forces’ operations manager, Lieutenant-General Anders Lindström, also attended the information broadcast. He expressed a hope that the number who had turned down the contract would have been fewer, but was satisfied with the results.

The new contract was issued in June on the instructions of commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Sverker Göransson. All employees, including civil employees, were given until September 20th to decide.

The demand to sign a new employment contract does not apply to officers who had joined the Armed Forces after 2004, as it was then made obligatory to submit to foreign duty.

According to Stålesjö, there is no single personnel group which is overrepresented among the 600 staff which have declined foreign duty and thus their jobs within the Armed Forces.

“There is a very broad spread, both officers and civilians,” he said.

“We will now over the next two weeks work with the 600 who said no as well as the 350 who have not answered,” he said.

The Armed Forces personnel welfare board will study whether any of the affected staff members have expertise that the Armed Forces should take into account on operational reasons.

The review is expected to be completed by October 14th.

“We will then be able to give confirmation to each and every one and the redundancy date is planned as October 31st,” Stålesjö said.

The decision by commander-in-chief Sverker Göransson to issue the new contract, has drawn criticism from some quarters, including the Swedish Military Officers’ Association (Officersförbundet).

“We feel completely steamrollered,” said chairperson Lars Fresker in a statement on Friday.

Lars Fresker is highly critical of how the issue has been managed by the military authorities and considers the most serious part to be that members don’t know what it is they are signing up to.

“The details over how often the postings would occur, and possible exceptions regarding having small children, or sickness, are not clear. There is a significant level of concern among members,” he said.

Fresker also questioned why there are large numbers of administrative staff also covered by the new requirements.

“There are groups such as economists, pay administrators that we do not understand why they should be covered by this. Are they going to sit in Afghanistan and pay out salaries,” said Lars Fresker.

The uniform contracts have been defended by Per-Olof Stålesjö on solidarity grounds, and are a result of a decision by the government and parliament over the direction of the Swedish Armed Forces, where the focus has been shifted towards operational units serving abroad.

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‘Sweden should follow Norway on conscription’

As Sweden decides whether to bring back compulsory military service, defence expert Johanne Hildebrandt tells The Local that Sweden would be much better off following Norway's "weak conscription" model.

'Sweden should follow Norway on conscription'
Sweden's Armed Forces in action. Photo: TT
I'm both for and against military conscription in Sweden. 
One of the biggest problems with Sweden's old conscription system was that when the soldiers became professional, the move was hastily and sloppily done. They were getting a really low salary – around 16,000 kronor ($2,180) a month – and this alone was a sign from the beginning that it would never work.
There's no way a soldier can work for that little money – the whole idea was pure fantasy. And of course, it turned out that it didn't work. The army struggled to get hold of soldiers at all. Their calculations suggested that soldiers would stay for at least six years but most left after only a few. 
There was an argument at the time that soldiers would earn more money if they took part in missions abroad, but there was no way that all the soldiers could go on all the missions. It was ridiculous. Also, the contracts don't lock the soldiers in like in the UK or the US. Soldiers can quit whenever they like. 
Let's also remember that the Armed Forces aren't so well known with the younger generation today. All the surveys show that the confidence is at a low. People know they will be underpaid and that they can quit whenever they like. No amount of expensive commercial campaigns can turn that around.

A Swedish soldier in training. Photo: TT
I think the Norwegian model of conscription is better. They have professional soldiers plus conscription.
[In 2012, around 14 percent of Norwegians called in by the Armed Forces were conscripted. The conscription, while mandatory, is easy to get out of and the military recruits only those who are most motivated. Last year Norway became the first country in Europe and Nato to make military service compulsory for both genders.]
People seem to think it's working well. I think we need a mix like that in Sweden.
I think we should have civilian duty, at least six months in a hospital or in the army or whatever. That way you learn something, you take responsibility for your country, you have to push yourself, and you end up socializing with people you don't usually meet. 
It could even be in the emergency services where this kind of work is really needed. Let's face it, Sweden doesn't see much war anyway. 
But the reason I am also against conscription is that Sweden lacks the facilities to accommodate the idea.

Another Swedish soldier in training. Photo: TT
Imagine if every 18-year-old got called up.
First they'd have to do the tests – and where are they going to go? The test facility has shut down. Where are they going to find uniforms? Where will they stay? The regiment has been turned into apartments. 
It would cost a lot of money and take a lot of effort to rebuild the system, and let's not forget that most countries have given up on conscription anyway. 
Another point is that Sweden's soldiers today are much better trained and better educated than the those who came via conscription, many of whom had just a few months of training and experience. The old system was basically volunteers. 
Professional soldiers with one or two years of training are much better than those who've do nine months of conscription and then quit and forget their skills.
An army full of conscripted soldiers could mean an army that's not very sharp at all. 
Johanne Hildebrandt is a former war correspondent and a fellow at the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences.