Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Defence Forces Remuneration
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. This matter has been the subject of much scrutiny and media comment in recent years and the reason is clear. The fact is that those who work in the Defence Forces who are often on the front line in an emergency within the State are paid a measly sum of money for the service they provide. The representative organisations have demonstrated in recent times. There was a demonstration outside Leinster House in late 2017 to highlight the impact this issue is having on many Defence Forces personnel.
Figures released last year to my colleague, Senator Craughwell, showed that of the approximately 2,500 new recruits to the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps between 2013 and 2017, some 641 had left and only 1,822 remained. The reason was that they were able to earn more money working in places like Tesco, SuperValu, Aldi and Lidl than for the Defence Forces. They had made the decision to leave because they could not afford to remain in that position, this despite the fact that it costs approximately €100,000 to train a member of the Defence Forces.
We have to get real, which is why I am raising the issue with the Minister of State. I have listened to some of the reasoned arguments given by the Minister and the Department on this issue to the effect that remuneration levels are within the confines or parameters of the pay agreements. That is fine. The matter can be deal with within those parameters, but a special case must be made for Defence Forces personnel. There should be a stand-alone agreement to deal with the issue, given the low levels or remuneration of which they are in receipt. The matter should be dealt with outside the parameters of the Public Service Pay Commission; it should be dealt with as an emergency. Recently the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers outlined that its members had not, to date, received the pay increases they were due to receive in recent weeks. I wonder why that was, despite the fact that administrative or management staff, that is to say, non-uniformed personnel within the Department of Defence, had received incremental pay increases under the Lansdowne Road agreement.
There seems to be an issue. Personnel are leaving the Defence Forces. Another example is illustrated by personnel at Finner Camp in County Donegal. Army personnel working there are being bused to Dublin where they work two days. They are then bused back to County Donegal. Is that the most efficient and effective use of resources within the Defence Forces? I understand that, as a result of that policy direction, fuel costs at Finner Camp have gone up 6,000% during the past three or four years. Is that an efficient and effective use of resources? I am not sure it is.
These issues need to be addressed. The first is proper remuneration for Defence Forces personnel, some of whom are sleeping in cars. Others cannot afford to pay mortgages, while others are living in absolute poverty, which is unacceptable. That is no way to treat Defence Forces personnel.
Rates of pay and conditions of employment in the public service have traditionally been set by, among other things, reference to relative levels of pay across the various sectors of the public service. Like other areas within the public service, the pay rates of members of the Permanent Defence Force were reduced during the financial crisis. These decisions were not taken lightly but were necessary at the time. The Government’s economic policy has led to economic recovery and a resumption of economic growth. This has provided the fiscal resources to provide for a sustainable and fair recovery in public service pay scales.
In 2016, as set out in the confidence and supply agreement, the Government established the independent Public Service Pay Commission to provide an objective analysis and advice on the most appropriate pay levels in the public service, including the Defence Forces. Following the publication of the report of the commission, the Government initiated negotiations on an extension to the Lansdowne Road agreement. Both the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, were invited to the negotiations which were held under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission. They were afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations.
Defence Forces pay is increasing in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The focus of the increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. Following the revisions of pay under the Lansdowne Road agreement, the first point of the pay scale for a corporal, including the military service allowance, is approximately €37,000. The first point of the pay scale for a sergeant, including the military service allowance, is just under €40,000 per annum. In addition, as a result of successful negotiations with PDFORRA, the pay of general service recruits and privates who joined the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 2013 was increased further. The starting pay for a newly qualified three star private and the Naval Service equivalent saw an increase from €21,800 to €27,000 in gross annual earnings, inclusive of the military service allowance, with scope for further income from duty allowances.
Further increases in pay will arise from the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 to 2020. The agreement provides for increases in pay, ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement, with the focus once again on the lower paid. Arrangements are being made to process the first increase due under the agreement of 1% of annualised salary, effective from 1 January 2018. Permanent Defence Force personnel should see the effects of the increases in their pay scales in the next few weeks.
The Department of Defence, in conjunction with the Defence Forces, raised recruitment and retention issues for specialists as part of the submission to the Public Service Pay Commission. The commission has prioritised the defence sector for a more extensive examination of these issues. I understand both PDFORRA and RACO have been invited to make submissions to the commission. Defence management is also preparing a submission. The Public Service Pay Commission is due to complete this exercise in the second half of 2018. The findings and proposals made will be considered at that time.
The actions being taken are in line with the confidence and supply agreement; the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission are being followed and that process should he allowed to continue. So far, this approach has resulted in pay increases for members of PDFORRA and new pay scales for three star privates which were backdated to 2016 and paid in 2017. Also, in line with the public service stability agreement, further increases for all members of the Defence Forces are commencing this year.
I am satisfied that the processes I have outlined are appropriate in consideration of the matters raised by the Senator and delivering results for members of the Defence Forces. I know that the Senator raised the issue of members not receiving their pay increases in early January. The reason was their representative body had been late in signing up to the public service stability agreement. A process had to be gone through, but I understand they will receive their increases shortly.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive answer. This is an issue which must be dealt with. From his response, the Minister of State is on top of his brief. However, on his last comment - I know that it was the response given by the Department - RACO actually rejected the argument made by the Department in respect of its lateness in signing up to the extension of the Landsdowne Road agreement. Its deputy general secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Priestley, said the organisation totally rejected that explanation and that it had clearly identified to the Department on 12 December, its acceptance of the proposals, well in advance of any required adjustment of the payroll in January 2018.
We had eight minutes for this matter but have now spent 12 on it. There are others matters to be discussed. The Minister of State gave a very comprehensive answer. Unless he wants to make a brief comment on the Senator's response, we will move on. Whether RACO let the Department know in time is a question to be argued.
I just want to let the Senator know that it was not actually the Department of Defence that came up with explanation but the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Department of Defence was in no way holding back payments. As I fully understand, there is a process which has to be gone through. I am satisfied that was the reason for the delay in making payments.