The military authorities have advised that the strength of the Permanent Defence Force across all services, at 30th September 2019, was 8,654 personnel. Whilst I am very much aware that there continues to be a shortfall between the current strength figures and those of the establishment I remain committed to restoring the strength of the Defence Forces to 9,500. I am also fully aware of the specific HR challenges that relate to the different branches of the Defence Forces.
The Government has acknowledged that there are recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces that must be addressed. It is a fact that members of the Permanent Defence Force are being attracted to jobs elsewhere in a buoyant labour market. This is as a result of the high calibre of individuals in the Defence Forces and the skills they have acquired during their careers. The issue is more pronounced when these skills have been acquired in specialist fields.
In light of the particular difficulties being faced by the Defence Sector, the Government tasked the Public Service Pay Commission to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of recruitment and retention issues in the Permanent Defence Force (PDF).
The Commission’s Report, which has been accepted by Government contains a broad range of recommendations which will provide immediate benefits to members of the Permanent Defence Force as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements. These are:
- a 10% increase in Military Service Allowance
- the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances
- the restoration of Premium Rates for certain weekend duties.
- the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps.
I welcome Both RACO and PDFORRA's acceptance of these recommendations. The Report also contains a range of recommendations aimed at improving work-force planning, recruitment and conditions of service. The Report also provides for an examination of pay structures in the PDF and to identify further retention measures within the context of the Public Service Stability Agreement and future public sector pay negotiations.
The Government has prepared a detailed implementation plan setting out the timelines and objectives, indicating the commitment to deliver on the Pay Commission’s recommendations. Work on implementing the plan is underway and, under my direction, is being prioritised by Civil and Military Management.
I am confident that all the measures contained in the plan, coupled with pay benefits being delivered by the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the most recent being a 1.5% increase on 1st September, will address recruitment and retention challenges being experienced by the Permanent Defence Force.
However, it should be noted that as the Government's plan contains short, medium and long term measures, the full impact of these measures will take time to determine. There are also a range of external variables which impact on recruitment and retention and which can change. The capacity of the Defence Forces to undertake the tasks assigned by Government will continue to be carefully monitored having regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the Pay Commission and other actions which are underway.