And you thought discrimination was a thing of the past...
March 19, 2008 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Say you do a job and retire in or before 1996. Your coworker retires after 1997. Coworker gets six times more pension and you're asked to leave the country. Sounds unfair? Not to the British Government.

Gurkha have been serving in the British Military for close to 200 years but still aren't given equal rights. Some of them aren't even allowed to stay in the UK following their service. They're hoping their protesting in London this week will change that. Daily Express.

Last March, the UK Government said that all the Army’s Nepalese fighters who retired after 1997 would be entitled to pay and pension equal with the rest of the Army and would be allowed to settle in Britain.

For those who retired before 1997, their pensions remained six times less than their British counterparts and they still have no automatic right to stay in Britain. They are campaigning to be treated the same as the other Gurkhas.
posted by krautland (14 comments total)
The Times Online had a fuller explanation in last week's article by their Legal Editor.

Summing up, prior to 1997 the Gurkhas were based in Nepal and largely retired there. The pensions were based on a Nepalese cost of living (60p/day, according to one reference). The value of these pensions was approximately double Britain's foreign aid to the country. In 1997 the regiment was transferred permanently to Britain (while still retaining recruiting rights in Nepal). Some 20,000 retirees fell prior to the cutoff, and some 5000 of those actually live in Britain (despite their Nepalese COL pensions), requiring dependency on various forms of welfare.

Obviously the UK took a large step toward equal treatment going forward, but given the numbers it doesn't seem like a hardship to extend it retroactively.
posted by dhartung at 5:51 PM on March 19, 2008

Yeah, this is a real disgrace and is shaming. I can't see what the government's rationale is much beyond "you knew the rules when you signed up", which is (a) unlikely to be true and (b) a terrible argument anyway.
posted by patricio at 5:51 PM on March 19, 2008

Actually, (b) is a pretty good argument.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:53 PM on March 19, 2008

(b) is an excellent argument, yup. They weren't conscripts; they were volunteers, and they did know the regs when they enlisted. And it is (a) likely to be true, unless one wants to play ridiculous massive-conspiracy-of-withholding-pension-plan-details-from-the-natives games.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 7:26 PM on March 19, 2008

The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:27 PM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Gah! There's nothing wrong with discrimination, per se.

/pet peeve.
posted by pompomtom at 7:44 PM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

And also, blessed be the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, or something.

I say they all get baptized and then promptly dispatched to heaven. Better than a pension, and heaven has better weather than Britain.
posted by Dr. Curare at 7:46 PM on March 19, 2008

I love this kind of rationale:

"You never thank me for all the times I didn't kick you in the teeth!
posted by hexatron at 7:52 PM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

(b) may or may not be a good argument, it's still shitty to not make this retroactive.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:53 PM on March 19, 2008

So if the government said, "never mind, the post-1996 will get the same as the 1996 and earlier group," would that make it all right again? In other words, if my lot became intolerable when someone else's lot improved, would my lot become tolerable again if that someone else's lot didn't improve after all?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:19 PM on March 19, 2008

Gurkhas: the right folks to screw with.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:34 PM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

There has been a long campaign to give the Ghurkas equal treatment as their other colleagues in the rest of the army. Yes, the ghurkas knew what they signed up for - in fact, competition is fierce for places - but that doesn't mean the British government gets to avoid giving fair and equal treatment to all its soldiers, not just the British born ones.

Rou_Xenophobe - what if the going rate for that kind of work was 6 denarii, everyone else employed by him got 6 denarii, but these workers were all from a province where work was so short they'd agree to work for 1 denarii because it was better than no denarii? He'd still be exploitative, even if he was less so of more recent workers.

The british government/DOD recently agreed to change the pensions for current ghurkas, and backdated it 10 years. They won the right to settle in britain after retirement in 2004, backdated to 1997 (when the regiment base moved to the UK) as opposed to be being sent back to nepal with no right to remain.

The argument is they should have backdated both further to cover all living ex-Ghurkas. To quote Menzies Campbell "These soldiers have served our country well and we have a moral obligation to give them a fair pension and citizenship."

The governments counter-argument is that because ghurkas were not allowed to retire to Britain prior to 2004 (backdated to 1997 for previous retirees), their pension only had to pay for their reduced cost of living in nepal, and so should be lower. Even though some did migrate to Britain under normal immigration rules, and are now living in poverty.

Personally, I think it rather throws into a hollow light government talk of justice and campaigns against sweatshop labour in other countries, when we're exploiting some of our own ex-soldiers because it'd be "too expensive" to treat them the same as their colleagues.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:15 AM on March 20, 2008

What's the difference between these dark skinned economic migrants of the kind the papers are clamouring to be let in, and other dark skinned economic migrants of the type the papers are clamouring to keep out?
posted by vbfg at 2:51 AM on March 20, 2008

If ex-Gurkhas have never lived in the UK then I don't see why the terms of their employment (and pensions) must be the same as UK soldiers. There seems no legal requirement for equality. Such Gurkhas were employed in a different economic context and inevitably their pay etc will reflect that. Can an Indian employed by Ford to make cars expect the same wages as an American paid to do the same job? Conditions must be fair within that economic context but as far as I know the pensions received within Nepal are pretty good and this explains why there is such a massive number of applications. If a Gurkha has lived in the UK during his service then of course they should receive the same pay and conditions and the 1997 revision reflects this (when they transferred from bases in Hong Kong).

If a Gurkha retires to the UK then the situation is different I think. I doubt there is a legal requirement for pension equality and this probably explains why the government has made the distinction between pre and post-97 service. Whatever the legalities though, there is a wider concern here - respect for those who serve and sacrifice on behalf of the UK. Gurkhas are for all intents and purposes, mercenaries but they are our mercenaries and they have been fantastic soldiers. Not only on the battlefield (where they have a fierce reputation) but in many post-conflict environments. Their non-western appearance can help local populations accept their presence while their impeccable behaviour and soldiering ensure they are as effective at patrolling etc as anyone. Given this contribution to our national life it is an absolute disgrace that they can live in poverty in the UK. That the present UK government cannot see this makes a mockery of their constant talk of 'brave soldiers, best in the world' etc The military covenant is not an optional extra but a quid pro quo that people accept in return for risking their lives and forgoing certain rights. A vital part of this is the appearance of gratitude and respect for veterans - Gurkhas in poverty hardly upholds this.
posted by pots at 3:50 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

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