Commonwealth War Graves panic: Armistice Day staff may have to LEAVE France | World | NewsDecember 19, 2020
There is outrage that after Armistice Day workers were given the choice of accepting sweeping changes to their contracts or returning to the UK. Luton South MP Rachel Hopkins, who has three family members buried in cemeteries in France and Belgium, met with the Defence Secretary last week to discuss the plight of workers who maintain the resting places of war heroes.
She said: “The CWGC staff are having to make life-changing decisions with just three weeks’ notice. They are proud of their jobs and having to choose between taking a huge pay cut, in some cases around a 50 percent drop, or return to the UK, just before Christmas in the middle of a pandemic, is disgraceful.
“My meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence, [was] productive. He agreed to look at whether certain financial allowances could be retained and for more advice around pensions.
“Ultimately I would like to see him put the brakes on these unnecessary changes, so will be continuing to support affected staff and the vital work they do.”
Mr Wallace, a former officer in the Scots Guards, is the chairman of the Commission and is understood to be sympathetic to the workers’ situation.
Defence minister Johnny Mercer last week said it was “certainly a matter of regret that employees were not given more time to make their decision”.
Bev Clarkson of the Unite trade union pressed for action, saying: “Commonwealth War Graves staff, many of whom left the UK years ago, face having their incomes halved or upending their home lives and that of their families. These are staff who perform an important duty on behalf of the UK and the other Commonwealth nations.
“The Commission is treating them appallingly and the government must step in to protect their terms and conditions.”
Ms Hopkins spoke with three workers who told her the value of their employment package would be cut by more than half. She said staff have to sign new contracts by Tuesday but are unable to negotiate new pay levels.
The Commission says the end of the Brexit transition period and the stopping of freedom of movement means new arrangements are needed for people working in Belgium and France so their terms and conditions will be in line with the laws of their host countries. However, Ms Hopkins argues the status of Commission workers is governed by a 1951 treaty, not EU law.
According to the Commission, which acknowledges the “timetable has been tight,” it only received clarity from the French Government in October on the best way forward to grant staff residency rights and the right to work. It says it has budgeted more than £1million to help staff affected by the changes.
Barry Murphy, Director General of the CWGC, said: ‘We remain absolutely committed to looking after all of our employees around the world. Whilst we understand the anxiety these changes bring, we believe the new arrangements will properly align this group of employees with our existing staff in France and Belgium so that they can continue to work in their chosen location for many years to come.”