Soldiers pay to replace leaking jackets
Soldiers have had to resort to buying their own Kiwi-made clothing to try to stay warm, after the army issued them with leaky foreign-made raincoats, a jilted former supplier says.
The Defence Force bought millions of dollars worth of Chinese-made wet weather jackets from Australian firm Pacific Brands’ WorkWear division in 2013, but found that they leaked if soldiers wore them for more than 30 minutes in the rain.
Although the army stopped issuing the faulty jackets in June 2014, they were used in combat missions and the last of them will not be replaced until the end of the month, the Defence Force said in response to an Official Information Act request.
Davey Hughes, founder of Levin company Swazi, which supplied the army with wet-weather gear until 2012 – through Pacific Brands – said soldiers were choosing to pay for clothing out of their own pockets.
‘‘A lot of soldiers come here begging for anything in the cupboard they can grab because the gear they have got doesn’t work.
‘‘They talk about the fights that break out when someone has got a Swazi wet weather garment or someone has found a box of them – it gets quite aggressive,’’ Hughes said.
When Swazi had the army contract it ‘‘didn’t have a single garment returned because it was faulty’’.
hE blamed both cost-cutting by Pacific Brands and also the Defence Force for the loss of its contract, which cost Swazi 30 of its 80 jobs.
Pacific Brands would have needed to get the Defence Force’s permission to buy from China instead of New Zealand, he said. ‘‘[They] knew what was going on.’’ Defence Force procurement had become increasing controlled by civilians, he said. ‘‘Lots of people in procurement have never seen what soldiers do.’’
Hughes said most soldiers couldn’t now use the raincoats Swazi previously supplied to the army, because the camouflage had changed.
The exception was SAS soldiers who were more or less given free rein to buy what they wanted, he said.
‘‘We know a lot of those guys are wearing Swazi kit when they travel overseas.’’
But regular soldiers were buying other garments from Swazi ‘‘almost on a weekly basis’’ to wear underneath jackets they knew would leak.
‘‘If your raincoat leaks you need good kit underneath it to stay warm.’’
A Defence Force spokesman responded that it ‘‘had systems in place to identify requirements for new and upgraded equipment and clothing, as well as to rectify deficiencies identified for any in-service items’’.
RSA spokesman Hamish Stuart believed it had never been uncommon for servicemen to buy their own equipment.
‘‘Soldiers have always been buying their own gear because there is ‘always something wrong with what you are given’.’’
The loss of the army contract had ultimately helped Swazi because it forced the firm to shift its focus towards export markets, Hughes said.
The company still employs more than 50 people and, in May, its $610 Tahr XP anorak won the UK Shooting Industry’s award for best new clothing.
The problems with the Chinese-made raincoats became public knowledge only as the result of a court case in Australia.
Perth-based Wesfarmers has alleged that it got lumbered with the A$2.5 million (NZ$2.6m) cost of replacing the faulty raincoats supplied by Pacific Brands’ WorkWear division.
Pacific Brands, which is now owned by Hanesbrands, failed to advise Wesfarmers of the warranty claim before Wesfarmers bought the WorkWear business in August 2014, Wesfarmers has alleged.
The Defence Force said it saw no need for changes to its procurement practices, given the jackets were being replaced under warranty.