Friday 19 July 2019

Government unveils €10m Defences Forces pay package

A €10m Defence Forces pay package has been unveiled. Stock Image
A €10m Defence Forces pay package has been unveiled. Stock Image

Tom Brady and Cormac McQuinn

THE Government is facing an uphill struggle to halt the exodus of military personnel despite the launch of a take-home pay package that will cost €10.1m annually.

The package contains a range of increases in allowances across all ranks of the Defence Forces as well as initiatives to retain personnel in key sectors.

Announcing the package today, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Minister with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe were both upbeat that what was on offer would turn the tide.

Mr Kehoe said an offer of €28,000 for a school leaver was attractive and he was satisfied it would be grabbed with both hands by those seeking employment in other organisations.

Cadets with a Leaving Certificate would, on being commissioned, receive €35,000 a year with the opportunity of further education while those holding a third level degree would be paid over €41,000.

He described the Defence Forces as a great organisation to join with a range of options available that could not be offered elsewhere.

But the findings of a survey carried out on behalf of the Public Service Pay Commission, whose recommendations formed the basis of the package, painted a grim picture.

The survey results indicated that slightly over three in five respondents in the specialist category intended to leave the military in two years or less, with staffing levels highlighted as a significant factor.

The most frequently cited factors contributing to specialists intending to stay in their jobs were suitable hours, personal or family reasons and colleagues.

Over half of those working in "general" areas indicated their intention to leave in the next two years.

The commission also acknowledged that one of the strongest themes to emerge from the research was the widespread dissatisfaction with pay and allowances.

Mr Donohoe said the commission was prevented from undertaking a general pay review as this was covered by the Public Service Stability Agreement.

The package includes a 10pc increase in the military service allowance, which will push up the pay of most of the military by between €602 and €675 a year.

Sunday premium rates, which were slashed during the recession, while officers on a six-month tour of duty with a peacekeeping mission overseas will earn a tax free payment of between €19,000 and €20,400, while enlisted personnel will receive between €15,300 and €16,100.

Allowances for the Army Ranger Wing and the bomb disposal unit as well as security duty and patrol duty allowances for sailors are all being restored to pre-recession levels.

A service commitment scheme to retain Air Corps pilots will be re-introduced with payments of around €18,500.

Ministers have also agreed to a review of technical pay grades, which will boost the pay of an estimated one in four of the military, including Air Corps aircraft inspectors, air traffic controllers, mechanics, divers in the Naval Service, senior IT support technicians, chefs, dental hygienists, military police investigators, scenes of crime examiners, flight attendants, audio video production assistants, buglers, clerks and drivers.

If the package is accepted, the pay scales for a 3-star private (post 2013 entrant) are €28,110 to  €39,023; corporal (pre 2013) €38,233 to €39,940; sergeant (pre 2013) €40,880 to €43,296; company sergeant (pre 2013) €47,257 to €50,254; sgt major (pre 2013) €51,829 to 55,253.

These rates include the increase in military service allowance (MSA).

The pay rates for commissioned ranks ( including the MSA allowance) are currently lieutenant €41,039 to €51,118); captain €49,689 to €61,471; commandant €61,825 to €74,805; lieutenant colonel €73,766 to €81,516; colonel €83,857 to €100,314; brigadier general €128,416; major general €141,257; and Chief of Staff €183,269.

Mr Kehoe also announced that, separate to the pay commission recommendations, it had been decided to increase the Army Ranger Wing allowance by €50, taking it up to €200 a week while cooks with relevant qualifications would see their allowance increasing from €26.90 to €40.42 a week.

Recruits and apprentices will no longer be charged for rations and accommodation, resulting in a saving of €43.63 a week.

Those increases would come into effect immediately but would not be retrospective.

Pdforra, the association representing soldiers, sailors and air crew, said it needed time to reflect and consult with members but it remained deeply concerned about the overall approach to remuneration of its members, the consequences of which were evident in terms of morale, recruitment and retention.

General secretary Ger Guinan said his association's national executive would meet in the coming days to consider the recommendations and brief members while also writing to the Department of Defence to clarify some of the issues.

Some of the recommendations had gone "some way" towards meeting what they had sought others had fallen considerably short.

Mr Guinan added: "The cuts to allowances and the failure to recognise the working time of members of the Defence Forces as a resource has resulted in the departure of thousands of good men and women, who were simply forced to leave for economic reasons.

"The defence organisation will regrettably take a long time to recover from these losses", Mr Guinan added.

Pdforra said that over the past four to five years, more than 3,000 personnel had exited the Defence Forces.

Current exit rates averaged 50 to 60 a month.

Raco, which represents military officers, said that since it made it's written submission in February 2018, a staggering 130 officers and 1,100 enlisted personnel, or nearly 13pc of military personnel, had left the Defence Forces.

It accused the pay commission of failing to address crucial retention initiatives, sought by Raco, such as reinstatement of the supplementary pension for post 2013 new entrants, 79pc of whom felt they did not have a viable long term career in the Defence Forces.

It also failed to restore the proven retention measure of fixed period promotion for highly trained specialists or specialised instructor allowances for officers involved in onerous and highly demanding induction training.

Raco called for an independent pay review body to be set up without delay.

It said it was difficult to see how the package would restore confidence and prevent further exodus of trained personnel.

The report was a missed opportunity to effectively arrest the unprecedented retention crisis and Raco hoped it would not act as a catalyst for further discharges and retirements.

"The perception of military personnel continues to be that they are not valued by government and the immediate implementation of tangible retention initiatives through a review body is vital if that perception is to change".

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil criticised the package, pointing to claims that it won’t stop the “exodus” of personnel leaving the organisation.

Defence spokesman Jack Chambers said the key question was whether it would stem the exodus and he believed the reaction from across the Defence Forces was of widespread concern that it would not.

He said the 10pc increase in the Military Service Allowance, €350-per-year for a new entrant private in the army equated to 96c-per-day before tax "and the question we all have to ask ourselves is whether that amount will entice some one who’s considering leaving the Defence Forces to stay.”

Mr Chambers also said: “The worst off in our Defence Forces are the worst off in this report. If you take the new entrant private getting 96c per day, that would not be enough to buy a packet of sweets based on the report’s recommendations.”

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