Familes of French soldiers protest over missing pay

French soldiers’ families protest over missing pay

Defence minister promises software problems will be over by Christmas after wives and partners’ Facebook campaign

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 October 2012 18.28 GMT

For a year, thousands of French soldiers, many of whom are serving abroad, have had to sporadically go without monthly pay cheques 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, the defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has promised that the “unbearable difficulties” will be over by Christmas.

Le Drian has unblocked an emergency €30m (£24m) 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 this 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 sceptical 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 cheque hasn’t come in. Mummy’s in trouble with the bank, what should we do?”

One woman had written: “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 asked: “Is living with dignity too much to ask for from the state?”

The new computerised system for army pay, named Louvois, was installed in October last year for the 130,000 personal of France’s land army, 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 cheques or salaries that were taxed several times, leaving only a pittance. There were 75 types of error and often thousands of euros were missing from monthly pay cheques.

The new Socialist government , formed in May, is under pressure for not fixing the problem as soon as it took office. The Socialists have criticised the previous, rightwing government under Nicolas Sarkozy, which installed the system, accusing it of making hasty and ill-thought-out defence staff cuts that have contributed to the problem.

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