Thu, Nov 01, 2012 - Page 7 News List

French soldiers’ families protest over missing pay

POVERTY:The defense minister promised that soldiers would be paid by Christmas after their wives and partners aired their complaint via Facebook

The Guardian, PARIS

For a year, thousands of French soldiers, many of whom are serving abroad, have had to sporadically go without monthly pay checks because of a malfunctioning salary software system. Now, after the soldiers’ wives and partners launched a Facebook campaign in which the women painted their bare backs with messages about how their lives and those of their children had been made a nightmare of poverty, French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian has promised that the “unbearable difficulties” will be over by Christmas.

Le Drian has unblocked an emergency 30 million euros (US$38.9 million) and brought in extra staff to deal with the unpaid pay packets.

“Soldiers having to chase their salaries is not worthy of a country like France,” he said.

Wives and partners of French soldiers, many of whom are serving in Afghanistan, launched their protest last month after a street demonstration this year. Inspired by campaign on post-traumatic stress disorder by the wives and partners of US troops, the women posted photographs of themselves on social networks with messages written across their backs and shoulders, many skeptical that computer software was purely to blame, fearing it was also down to the failings of a cash-strapped French state.

Soldiers’ partners have spoken of constant anxiety around payday as it was never clear whether they would receive the right amount. They say they are under pressure from the banks, have to take emergency loans and are unable to put food on the table.

The message on one woman’s back read: “My darling, all’s well here. The state has placed your salary on the financial markets, the fridge is empty, the bank is asking for interest, and I’ve been told to close [my account]. I love you very much.”

Another said: “Daddy, we’re proud of you. We love France, but your pay check hasn’t come in. Mommy’s in trouble with the bank, what should we do?”

“Tired by war, worn-out by battle, betrayed by the government, stolen from by the banks, the children and I are by your side, we love you,” another woman had written.

The new computerized system for army pay, named Louvois, was installed in October last year for France’s 130,000 land troops, and promptly went haywire. Described by the ministry as “a bit of a crazy machine,” it has made tens of thousands of payment errors in the past year, such as unsent pay checks or salaries that were taxed several times, leaving only a pittance.

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