Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Questions (62)

Clare Daly


62. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has had discussions with the Minister for Defence regarding the problem of pay in the Defence Forces and the impact on recruitment and retention. [49209/18]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Public)

I ask the Minister if he has had discussions with the Minister for Defence regarding the problems of pay, recruitment and retention. I note the Minister for Defence managed to wrestle an extra €37.5 million from the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, in the defence budget. However, when we see only €6 million of that went on pay, it really puts the issue into perspective and, particularly given gardaí got €60 million to deal with pay, we can see the scale of the problem. Does the Minister think it is sensible that the Defence Forces would spend six times the amount on capital expenditure than they spend on pay?

As the Deputy will be aware, the Public Service Pay Commission has been asked by Government to examine the issue of recruitment and retention in the public service and to establish, in the first instance, whether and to what extent a difficulty may exist in terms of recruitment and retention in respect of specific groups, grades and sectors of the public service. Where a recruitment or retention difficulty is identified, the pay commission is tasked to examine the full range of causal factors.

It is important to point out that the terms of reference for the pay commission for this exercise, as agreed by the parties to the public service stability agreement, do not provide for a generalised pay review for any group. The pay commission emphasised this point in its first module report on nurses, non-consultant hospital doctors and consultants.

The commission is approaching its work in a modular format, having recently completed module 1. The next phase, module 2, will focus on certain other areas of the health services and the Defence Forces. The early inclusion of the Defence Forces in the pay commission's schedule of sectors to be examined under the terms of its remit was welcomed by both myself and the Minister for Defence. I can further inform the Deputy that it is the position that officials from my Department are in close liaison with their colleagues in the Department of Defence in the preparation of material for submission to the pay commission on the issues of recruitment and retention. The pay commission will, having due regard to its terms of reference, consider the matter of recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces and issue its findings accordingly. I look forward to receiving its report.

I am, of course, aware of the pay commission. I am also acutely aware of the fact Defence Forces personnel do not have a collective voice in the way normal workers organised in a trade union would have. There is extreme urgency in this situation. We are operating against the backdrop of a massive 21% reduction in Defence Forces personnel, a huge increase in workload and the fact a third of the people who left in the last five years bought their discharge - that is how desperate they are to get out. It has become a paradigm of austerity that when there are cutbacks, it actually costs more than is saved. In the Naval Service, for example, it costs €100,000 to train somebody to able seaman level, and when they leave, that expertise cannot be replaced. That is the particular crisis we now have and it comes against the backdrop that we are spending multiples of that amount on shiny new ships we cannot afford to staff. It seems ridiculous that we are wasting money on equipment in that way. There is a huge urgency in addressing these matters. Pay is not the only reason people are leaving.

I had a question down on this point which was, unfortunately, transferred. I want to take the opportunity to ask the Minister if he appreciates there are serving members of the Defence Forces who, because their pay is so low, are qualifying for the working family tax credit, or family income supplement, as it was called. This is a mark of why morale is so bad in the Defence Forces. People are being offered jobs outside and are leaving a career they love and in which they have served their country so well and so proudly.

It used to be the norm all over Ireland that a soldier at corporal level with a family could look forward to buying an affordable house. That has all gone out the window. The Government has shown no imagination in assisting members of our Defence Forces, who do us proud in Ireland and right around the world, to become owners of an affordable house.

Instead, they are out there competing in the rental market in a regime of savage rent increases. No wonder they are leaving.

As Deputy Burton will be aware, and Deputy Daly also has a lot of experience in this area, the way in which we manage public sector wage and allowance policy is via a collective agreement. Any change that is made or considered for the Defence Forces, therefore, has immediate consequences for the rest of those who work in the public and civil services, as noted in the debate a short time ago with Deputy Jonathan O'Brien in regard to those who work in our nursing and midwifery services.

Deputy Daly specifically put to me the issue of why the Department of Defence and the armed forces have got increased funding for capital expenditure. I thought increased funding for equipment, vessels and vehicles would be welcomed, particularly given the Department and some parts of the armed forces have been calling for that.

In regard to the point put to me by Deputy Burton, I reiterate that we have a collective wage agreement overall, and the value of this is still understood by the Labour Party. As I said in regard to nurses, I have nothing but the highest respect for the contribution our armed forces make at home, on the seas and further abroad.

I make the point that, for a newly qualified three-star private and their Naval Service equivalent, after approximately 29 weeks of training, their salary at that point stands at €27,257, including the military service allowance. In the debate on allowances or salary, it is important to have that point in mind.

I am sure the Minister finds it ironic to be criticised by his former colleagues for the policies they brought in together, but such is life in here. Increased capital expenditure would, of course, be welcome if we had the staff to operate the equipment.

The point is that staff and personnel are being bled dry and are leaving in droves. We do not have the personnel to operate that. Restoring pay to pre-FEMPI levels, as we are often told, is not good enough. It does not address the situation of post-2011 recruits or the cost of living issues. That explains some of the problems being experienced. When small increases in pay operate against the increased workload that fewer Defence Forces personnel are expected to shoulder, the hourly rate is seen to plummet and people spend more time away from their families. They do not have the protection of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 or all the things which make it a very family-unfriendly situation. They do not have the same security of tenure as other public sector workers, in fact they must reapply every few years. This is a critical situation. If we are talking about prudent management of our financial resources then investing in staff is far more cost-effective than investing in shiny new toys when we do not have the personnel to operate them.

I feel I have to correct the record slightly to say that a new tank or vessel is anything but a toy. It is meeting an equipment need that has been raised with me by the Department of Defence, originating in the armed forces. It is anything but that and at the very least it contributes to ensuring the safety of the personnel who Deputy Daly is referring to. The Deputy was very clear about what she is looking for. She wants us to go to a wage level that is higher than it was before the implementation of FEMPI. They will be higher than they were before we got into difficulty.

I know the Deputy will have ways that this can be paid for but that is overall a wage bill for our public services that will ultimately compromise our ability to deliver services, and all the other things I have been called on to do over the past 45 minutes since I came in here. I am committed to standing behind the work of the Public Service Pay Commission to see if it yield recommendations that can be delivered while maintaining an overall collective wage agreement. I reaffirm the great respect I have for all those in uniform who represent our State at home and abroad.

If a person has a Garda uniform they get an extra €60 million, if they have an Army uniform they get an extra €6 million.