Editorial: Workplace gear woes

PETER O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013

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To what extent, if any, should a worker be expected to buy their own equipment for work?

Here, the basic tools of trade are supplied. Pen, paper, coffee, computer, phone, coffee, desk, chair and some coffee. I pay for my clothes.

Depending on the job what's supplied varies. Traveller, a car; freezing worker, gumboots; fish filleter, a knife; soldier, a gun. Pretty obvious right.

Except it's not, as we heard last week after an army court martial in which evidence emerged that soldiers in the SAS buy some of their own gear.

And we're not talking about sunglasses or Dan Carter jocks, we're talking about essential items, like body armour, helicopter lanyards, safety boots and charging handles, the latter being crucial for quick and safe firing of weapons.

These apparently were on order by the SAS, but the soldier couldn't wait.

He'd spent $18,000 of his own money on gear, but when he later sold some was accused of theft. He maintained this was his own, the army didn't and he was convicted. He has said he will appeal.

It seems this practice of buying your own gear is common among the SAS, and maybe there is an image component at work. Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says soldiers are supplied with good equipment, but "we can't give out 30 pairs of different boots across the defence force".

Fair enough, but some of the items being bought privately sound like must-haves rather than nice extras.

It seems too that Kiwi soldiers were poor cousins to the Americans in Afghanistan, and would raid US Army surplus bins for equipment.

According to the soldier: "There was a helicopter there at one stage that I saw that if you could fly it out and sign for it, it was yours. You could get anything you wanted there."

Imagine that.

Money has always been tight for the New Zealand defence force and that has led to numerous embarrassing moments when overseas, and part of the problem is how expensive gear is along with a string of cost blowouts on big-ticket items.

But what emerged at the court martial is also cause for concern. Either our front-line soldiers are not getting the essential gear they need, or they are all out there shopping online for personalised equipment that makes them individuals rather than a single unit.

It's worthy of further investigation. We're not talking about the dangers of paper cuts here.

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- The Timaru Herald

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