Morale: Gurkhas Get Shown the Money

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March 15, 2007: Bowing to years of complaints from retired Gurkhas, and many Britons, the United Kingdom has agreed to pay retired Gurkha soldiers at the same rate as other British soldiers. That will mean a Gurkha infantrymans annual pension will go from about $2,200 a year, to nearly $12,000. The average income in Nepal is about $200 a year. The current British pension (for 15 years service) allowed the retired Gurkhas to live very well in Nepal, and start a second career. The new pension will make them quite wealthy, by Nepalese standards. But that's the problem. An increasing number of Gurkhas have been retiring in Britain, instead of returning to Nepal. When they do that, the difference between the two pension systems is more apparent.

All this began two centuries ago, when Gurkhas were recruited into the British Indian army, not the British army. Thus, until the new changes, when Gurkhas signed up for the British army (and there is fierce competition for the few hundred openings each year), they agreed to receive a pension based on what soldiers get in the Indian army. For nearly two centuries, the British army has used Gurkha tribesmen from Nepal as infantry. The Gurkhas have been very good at the job. After India became independent in 1947, they too recruited Gurkhas for Indian infantry units. In fact, the Indian army employs more Gurkha troops than does the British. But service in the British army was considered a better deal, even though the pay was the same as that received by Gurkhas in the Indian army.

The Gurkhas want to dispense with the two century old colonial arrangement, and get paid the same as any other foreigner who joins the British army. Makes sense. After all, the Gurkhas are not just another foreigner signing up. The Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills, discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. However, one thing the British bean counters are digging their heals in on is making the increase retroactive for the thousands of Gurkha retirees living in Nepal and Britain. So the fight continues, mainly for the 30,000 retired Gurkhas and 6,000 widows. There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army. Full pay and pension equality would cost Britain over $3 billion.

 


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