Compensation of reservists causes trouble for Estonia

Having a good reserve is complicated. The material and logistical requirements are obvious as a reserve is not worth much if you are not able to provide simple things like uniforms and weapons when the reservists show up for service. Denmark is a good example of a country with a large reserve of former conscripts but no clue whatsoever about how to equip the reservists if they should ever be called upon.1 But the logistical question is one of the simpler obstacles to a good force of reservists because the defense authorities can manage that alone given the necessary resources. A much more complex issue is how to create the societal support that makes it possible for reservists to combine a military commitment with their daily jobs and personal life.

A rather embarrassing display of the difficulties governments can face when trying to make favorable conditions for reservists can be found in Estonia where a story on uncovers problems with the financial compensation of soldiers during periods of military service.

In its efforts to guarantee the income of soldiers, Estonia has a system of compensation so that all reservists will receive at least something for their time. Since the government rates are lower than most people’s normal income and the prospect of losing money is a drag on potential reservists’ motivation for military service, the military authorities have engaged with employers’ organizations in joint efforts to make employers voluntarily pay the soldiers’ normal salary during the time of military reconvening. The government accompanied the efforts with a slogan saying that employers are not obligated to pay during service time but that a good employer would choose to do so anyway.

Well, turns out that the Estonian government is not a good employer by its own standards. The guidelines from the Ministry of Finance do not allow government managers to continue the payment of salaries to reservists, and indeed the computer system is set up in ways to prevent mistaken incidents of the government securing the income of employees who engage in the defense of the country.

Clearly the Estonian government should get its act together and fix this. The interesting part is that everyone quoted in the article seems to agree that this is unfortunate, but they come up with a series of bureaucratic excuses to explain the complicated nature of different parts of government having to coordinate and nobody really knowing whose responsibility it is. The article actually finishes with a representative from the Ministry of Defense saying that perhaps increasing the rates of compensation to a less painful level could be an alternative solution to the government fixing its administrative guidelines.

But no, increasing the rates of compensation is not a good solution because it still means that reservists will feel that they have to pay to be active in the military. And if the government can get away with not paying salaries for reservists, how will the government argue that private sector employers should do it? So the different branches of government must learn to work together with a common goal of having a robust reserve of soldiers to defend the government. Sure it takes some effort to harmonize the administrative guidelines to account for reservists, and the question of compensation will just be one issue out of many. But if you want a well functioning reserve, you have to invest the time to work out the kinks to make military an easy choice for the potential reservists and their employers.

  1. Denmark is looking into ways of improving conscription so the force is actually useful. Some solution is expected in the coming five-year political defense agreement that will be approved later this year. 

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