Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Defence Forces Remuneration

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

1. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if Defence Forces management will be engaging directly with the Public Service Pay Commission in relation to recruitment and retention issues; if it is planned to filter engagement via his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2190/19]

Michael Harty

Ceist:

4. Deputy Michael Harty asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on whether poor pay and working conditions will drain the brightest and the best from the Defences Forces. [2139/19]

Will Defence Forces management, in particular the Chief of Staff, be allowed to engage directly with the Public Service Pay Commission, PSPC, on recruitment and retention issues or is it intended to filter engagement through the Department of Defence? As the Minister of State knows, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett has said he wants to engage directly. I would welcome clarity on whether the Minister of State and his Department will allow and facilitate that direct engagement and how and when it will occur.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 4 together.

Although I note that Deputy Harty is not present currently, I will answer his question. Similar to other sectors in the public service, the pay of Permanent Defence Force personnel was reduced as one of the measures to assist in stabilising the national finances during the financial crisis. Pay is being restored to members of the Defence Forces and other public servants in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 provides for increases in pay ranging from 6.2% to 7.4% over the lifetime of the agreement, with the focus of these increases weighted in favour of those on lower pay. The increases due from 1 January 2018, 1 October 2018 and 1 January 2019 have been paid to Permanent Defence Force personnel. Further increases are scheduled for 2019 and 2020. By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the payscales of all public servants, including members of the Defence Forces, earning under €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-FEMPI levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction to allowances cut under FEMPI is also scheduled as part of that agreement.

New entrants who joined the Defence Forces since 2011 can also benefit from the measures that were recently announced in respect of interventions at points 4 and 8 of the relevant payscales for all such new entrants to the public service. This measure, should it be accepted by the Permanent Defence Force representative associations, will be effective from 1 March 2019.

In accordance with the provisions of Public Services Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the Government has tasked the PSPC with conducting a more comprehensive examination of specific recruitment and retention challenges in the defence sector. The PSPC requested specific data and statistics to assist in its analysis. This material was collated and prepared by civil and military personnel with inputs from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. That Department co-ordinates the public service management response to the commission and it sent the Defence Forces material to it on 20 December 2018. The Department of Defence will continue to engage with the PSPC and respond to any specific query or follow-up request for information. It will also continue to work closely with the Defence Forces in this regard.

The Deputy may wish to note that, arising from such requests, there has been direct engagement between the Defence Forces and the commission to facilitate the surveying of Defence Forces personnel. Should the PSPC wish to meet the defence management team, this would include civil and military representatives. I understand that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would also be represented.

The commission's work is ongoing and the Government will give due consideration to the findings and any recommendation that arise from that work.

I will outline the timeline. Late last year, the Minister of State told me that both parties had signed off on a jointly agreed detailed submission to the PSPC. Today, he has told me that, if there is engagement in writing, military management may be allowed to engage with the PSPC. That is welcome. Since the Minister of State's remark that a joint submission had been made, the Chief of Staff has said he is uniquely competent to make his public plea and to engage with the PSPC. He must be a differentiator from the defence perspective. He also uses different language from the Taoiseach, who in Mali recently insulted members of the Defence Forces by saying that it was not all about pay. The Chief of Staff has stated that there is an inextricable link between pay and being valued. There was considerable disgust with the Taoiseach's remarks. On the one hand, he lauded the Defence Forces and their work in Mali - we all have great regard for that work - and, on the other, dismissed these pay concerns. It is important that the Government's language reflects the value that we place on the Defence Forces instead of being so dismissive about the worst paid workers in the public service.

Let me refer to what the Taoiseach stated in Mali. I am not sure whether the Deputy listened to the full interview. The Taoiseach agreed that there was an issue with pay in the Defence Forces and added that people did not join the Defence Forces just for the pay. He was right in saying that. Many people join the Defence Forces for the experiences they can get. They want to join from childhood. I speak to them on a weekly and monthly basis.

The submission is a joint one from military management and civil personnel. I would like to see the parties get an opportunity to address the PSPC in person. Both parties are competent and able to bring their concerns to the commission, be that in the form of the Secretary General or an assistant secretary of the Department or the Chief of Staff or a deputy chief of staff. In this context, anyone who speaks to the PSPC has my full confidence that he or she will be able to get his or her message and concerns across to it.

My question was on the payscales in the Defence Forces and the appalling levels of pay their members are given. The particular matter I will raise is that of recruitment and retention.

The ability to recruit and retain members of our Naval Service, Army and Air Corps is a major issue in the Defence Forces. There is a turnover of 10% every year. There has been a turnover of 30% in personnel in the past three years. Pay and conditions are part of the reason. The effect of poor pay is that up to 2,000 Defence Forces families, including the families of commissioned officers, are dependent on family income supplement. This is completely unacceptable in a defence force which carries out a humanitarian role and a peacekeeping role and which is involved in the security of the State. With the onset of Brexit in the coming months, who knows what will be placed in the arms of the Defence Forces?

I am not sure if the Deputy is aware of the report of the Public Service Pay Commission from May 2017. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, gave priority to both the health sector and the Defence Forces in the work of the commission. A joint submission has been made to the pay commission. The Deputy referred specifically to payscales. I will outline the average pay of members of the Defence Forces. These are gross average earnings from 2018. A three-star private earned €37,529; a corporal, €41,075; a sergeant, €44,622; a company quartermaster sergeant, €49,605; a company sergeant, €50,224; a battalion quartermaster sergeant, €53,606; and a sergeant major, €54,878. At officer rank, a second lieutenant made €37,108; a lieutenant, €42,291; a captain, €53,138; a commandant, €66,496, a lieutenant colonel, €79,162; and a colonel, €88,480. I stress that these are average earnings. A joint submission by the military side and the civil side was made to the pay commission in December of last year. I am confident that we will see the results of that in the first or second quarter of this year.

The Minister of State's language is interesting. I welcome the fact that he has said he will facilitate the direct engagement of the Chief of Staff and military management and I hope he will do so. In autumn of last year, he said that a joint submission had been made. Now he is referring to a joint submission in December. In his initial remarks he also referred to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Will he clarify what that is about? Based on remarks the Minister of State made in the House previously, it was my impression that the joint submission was signed off and sent to the pay commission in the autumn of last year. Why was there a delay between autumn and December? He is now saying it was sent in December. Will he explain that gap? He also referred to the first quarter of 2019 but is now referring to the second quarter. What caused the delay with the submission? Was it sent in the autumn? Will he explain that point?

Personal testimony is important when dealing with issues such as this. Sarah Walsh of the organisation, Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces, gave a chilling message last year. She said:

Our families live in poverty. We suffer from food, income, fuel, and child poverty. Many of us can only dream of owning our home, and some this month are facing uncertainty about their homes, while others are facing homelessness.

I doubt that has changed much in the past six months. To try to be positive and put some ideas in the Minister of State's head, pay and conditions are important. Pay is one element but conditions are another. Many other defence forces offer their members the opportunity to access higher education. Consideration should be given to offering university places to members of our Defence Forces. Second, accommodation is a significant problem. Up to 35% of the income of a member of the Defence Forces goes on accommodation. Many other defence forces provide free accommodation. That is a major incentive, which attracts people into the service.

First, there is a significant number of educational incentives within the Defence Forces. I will address Deputy Chambers's question first. We sent the joint submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in September or early October. I may be corrected on that. That is the body which submits it to the Public Service Pay Commission. The Department was looking for specific statistics over two or three months. It was going back and forward to military management and the Department of Defence in that regard. When it finally received all of the data and information it required, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform submitted it to the Public Service Pay Commission. It will not decide whether a team from military and civil management appear in front of the commission. That is entirely up to the independent commission. As I have stated clearly here on numerous occasions, it is an independent pay commission set up by the Government and it will decide who it wishes to call. What I am saying - and I am on the record as saying this previously - is that I would like an opportunity for the people who made the submission to appear in front of the commission.

On Deputy Harty's issues, less than 1% of members of the Defence Forces are on the working family payment. It is a total myth that thousands of members of the Defence Forces are on the payment. It is a weekly tax-free payment available to employees with children. Eligibility for the payment is determined by average weekly family income and family size. The net assessable earnings are calculated after deducting tax, PRSI and USC. The more children in the family, the higher the income threshold is. By way of example, an individual with five kids who is earning approximately €50,000 per annum after tax and deductions could qualify for this payment. There is a myth out there that there are thousands of people in the Defence Forces receiving this payment. That is absolutely and totally untrue. The 1% I mentioned includes officials in the Department of Defence as well. I could stand here for the next half hour talking about the educational opportunities offered to members of the Defence Forces to further their careers and education.

Defence Forces Personnel

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

2. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the timeframe for the completion of the heads of the Bill to amend section 3 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and remove the ban on members of the Defence Forces from the scope of the legislation. [1697/19]

When will the heads of the Bill which will remove the exclusion of Defence Forces personnel from the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 be published? This removal would enhance the safety and welfare of those workers by providing minimum standards of work, periods of rest, and the like.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Defence Forces are excluded from the provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. The Government has committed to amend the Act to encompass the Defence Forces. 

The uniqueness of certain military activities must be provided for in the regulatory framework, having regard to the specifics of the directive. Work is under way in this regard and my Department will continue to progress the legislative changes required with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality. In this context, significant work has been undertaken and an internal Defence Forces working group is further considering issues and will report on its findings shortly. Consultation with the Defence Forces representative associations has been initiated and will be undertaken as the current work evolves.

There is ongoing litigation in respect of the applicability of certain elements of the directive to members of the Defence Forces in specific circumstances.  This constrains my ability to discuss the nature of the ongoing work. It would also be inappropriate to comment in respect of any individual case or the legal strategy with regard to same.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the issues being considered are complex and there is a requirement to ensure that the Defence Forces retain operational effectiveness. In this context, it is difficult to be precise with timelines. However, I assure him that this is a priority for the Department and the Defence Forces.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. I guarantee him that some of those who are involved in litigation have not been met with. Those litigants, and possibly others, will continue until the European Court of Justice judgment from 2010 is complied with fully by the State. Every one of those men and women who are in the Defence Forces understands the uniqueness of the organisation, yet they are able to look at defence forces and armies in other countries which have the same uniqueness but for which the European working time directive has been fully implemented. Others have come close, yet in Ireland we are still awaiting even the publication of the legislation nine years later.

These people are workers and they should enjoy proper working conditions. I received an email from one of them before Christmas. It states:

This morning I came off doing a 24hr duty. I'll get an extra 20euro next month for it. But after I drive there which costs about 10euro then I make half that. But it's not the money. It's the time away from my family over xmas. Would any of you wor[k] for 24hrs for 20euro extra?? Not likely. I sleep o[n] my friends sofa because I have nowhere to go most nights. I am on the verge of suicide ... I fell helpless and lost. I tried a 2nd job but that's more time away from my kids ...

How does the Minister of State expect workers to continue without the legal protections which would ensure that, even in the unique context of the Defence Forces, they would have proper time to rest and ensure that they are compensated when they have to work extra time?

I assure the Deputy that this is an absolute priority for me, the Department and the Defence Forces. As stated, several legal cases are ongoing and I must be very careful in the language that I use. However, the current situation must be contextualised. Legal actions are pending in respect of the application of the working time directive in very specific circumstances. I note what the Deputy said about 24-hour duty. We have made a submission on this to the Public Service Pay Commission, which I hope it will consider. A great deal of work has been done to date but more is required. Discussions between the Defence Forces and the representative associations will continue. The civil-military group has been established. The military understands that it must report back to Department shortly. I am very conscious that the representative associations must be kept informed of exactly what is happening at every juncture.

There is also a legislative aspect to this matter. That is being dealt with my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty.

I understand the complexity and uniqueness of this situation. However, there is frustration among members of the Defence Forces at the complete lack of progress on all the points they have highlighted. I attended the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers, RACO, conference at the end of November. The association hosted representatives from abroad, including from the Swedish navy. They showed how the working time directive can work in times when a state is not at war or when its army is on stand-by or deployed. What is done elsewhere can also be done here without there being an impact on the cases that are before the courts. No one is asking the Minister of State to comment on those cases, but we must know when the legislation will be forthcoming. When will we see the heads of the Bill? If the heads are published, they can be debated by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, and that may inform the Minister of State's final version of the Bill when it comes to be presented. What I am suggesting would mean that, at the very least, a message would go out to the effect that progress is being made. The key question is when this will happen. Stating that it will come in time is not the answer.

I will return to the Deputy with timelines for the legislation. I will correspond with him over the next week or so. Considerable progress is being made, even if the representative associations might not see it like that. I assure the Deputy that a great deal of work is being done on the civil-military side. As stated, the military side is due to report to the Department on this shortly. We must look at work practices and activities, and at the needs of the organisation. There are a great many issues. It is no good to say implement the working time directive if there is some sort of weather emergency or whatever. It is necessary to ensure that all work arrangements meet all provisions of the organisation and that we engage in dialogue. I assure the Deputy that there is dialogue with the representative associations. I want to ensure that this continues, that we resolve the matter of the working time directive and that we pass the legislation. This also effects An Garda Síochána.

Gardaí are paid overtime.

It is a priority for both myself and the organisation, for the civil and military side.

Defence Forces Contracts

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

3. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a review of the 1994 contracts for members of the Defence Forces is to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2191/19]

A very worrying scenario may occur in the next 12 months unless we update the policy position relating to this matter.

Military life places unique demands on individuals and it is necessary that Defence Forces personnel are prepared to meet the challenges of all military operations. To this end, it is vital the age and health profile of personnel be such as to ensure that operational capability and effectiveness are not compromised in any way.

The age and fitness profile of members of the Permanent Defence Force was an issue of serious concern during the 1990s and was the subject of severe criticism in a series of external reports. One of the key areas identified for urgent action was the development of a manpower policy with an emphasis on lowering the age profile of Permanent Defence Force personnel. As a result, new terms and conditions were introduced for personnel enlisting after 1 January 1994 and new contracts for enlisted personnel were for a period of five years service. This was agreed with PDFORRA at that time.

Since then, the maximum period of service has been extended following further claims received from PDFORRA. Personnel enlisted after January 1994 now have a maximum service of 21 years unless, they have progressed to the rank of sergeant or above in the interim. Service to 21 years is subject to an individual meeting specified criteria as set out in Defence Forces administrative instructions.

PDFORRA submitted a claim through the conciliation and arbitration scheme for a further extension to the service contract limits in order to allow enlisted personnel to serve until they reach 50 years of age, subject to their meeting fitness, medical and other criteria. The Department did not consider a further extension appropriate, given the manpower policy of maintaining a satisfactory personnel profile. It did, however, propose that in recognition of the investment on training for specialised personnel, privates and corporals in receipt of technical pay group 3 and above would be eligible to serve up to 50 years of age. This is subject to these individuals meeting annual medical and fitness tests and other specified required criteria. PDFORRA did not agree with these proposals.

As agreement could not be reached, this matter proceed to adjudication in 2015, where an independent adjudicator made specific findings which were accepted by both official and representative sides. The adjudicator did not recommend extending the service limit to the extent in the claim from the representative side.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The adjudicator did, however, recommend that there should be a further review of the service limit for line corporals and for privates and corporals in the technical grades 1 and 2. He did not make any recommendation regarding the service limits for current line privates. In fact, the adjudicator accepted that a moderate increase in service for corporals could be balanced by a revised maximum 15 years service for new entrant line privates.

On foot of a proposal from the Department of Defence during the adjudication process, and purely as an exceptional and temporary arrangement, line corporals and both privates and corporals in technical group 1 and 2 appointments were allowed to continue to serve until the expiry of the following two promotion panels, subject to the individual meeting annual medical and fitness tests and other required criteria, such as not exceeding the age limit of 50 years during this period. This temporary arrangement is currently in place.

The Department of Defence and military management are continuing to analyse the matters raised by the adjudicator. Any continuance in service beyond the current maximum periods must not have any adverse impact on operational effectiveness and military outputs. PDFORRA will be consulted on any proposals arising.

In addition a broader review of contracts of service for Defence Forces personnel is provided for in the White Paper on Defence, which was published in 2015.  This will be progressed as part of the White Paper implementation process.

At PDFORRA conference's in 2017, the Minister of State undertook to review the terms of the 1994 contracts. He needs to clarify what he has done in the interim. There is a strong belief that more subjective criteria are needed for the retention of personnel. Members should be retained on capacity not age. I agree that in terms of operational capabilities, the various strata must be considered but it should not be done on a rigid age profile, dependent on promotions. We all know that there is a retention crisis. The White Paper target is not being met. PDFORRA has estimated that in the next year, that some 600 to 800 people may leave the Defence Forces. Much of that is based on the 1994 contracts. That added to the numbers of people purchasing their discharge means that we face a serious manpower issue in the next 12 months, where the Minister of State will be further away than ever from the White Paper target of 9,500 personnel.

I ask the Minister of State to look at what other countries are doing in this area. They are not using the same rigid criteria around age but are looking at the abilities of the people themselves and developing more subjective criteria. I ask that the Minister of State follow through on his own commitment in this.

At the conference in question, I stated that I had instructed civil and military management to develop a broad review of contracts for enlisted personnel within the Defence Forces. I advised that this would require careful consideration of the operational requirements of the Defence Forces and the personnel requirements to meet all of the requirements and needs of the organisation. A group comprising departmental and military management was established subsequently. As a result of this review the criteria relating to re-engagement in service was amended. This has allowed for additional personnel who had enlisted since 2006 to continue in service after 12 years.

A broader review examining appropriate age profiles for enlisted personnel is scheduled to be conducted as part of the White Paper on Defence process. PDFORRA will of course be consulted on all the developments. I have indicated that we should examine seriously the extension of service beyond 21 years. There are, however, a number of areas that we have to consider in consultation with everybody. A balance must be struck between the needs of individuals and the needs of the organisation, and we must make sure personnel are healthy and fit and meet all the requirements of any tests.

I also subscribe to the view that personnel must be physically and psychologically fit to meet the challenges of the job. The Minister of State has outlined another review based on a previous review. An international comparison shows that in Malta, the age limit is 55 years; Finland, 55; Belgium, 56; Cyprus, 52; and Australia, 60. Many personnel in their thirties who must make large mortgage repayments and meet high childcare and other family costs are being let go. There is a contradictory policy in the Department of Defence whereby it is trying to target personnel who have retired. There were headlines in the autumn of last year stating the Defence Forces were targeting retired workers to meet its staff problems. Under the 1994 contracts, the Department is allowing personnel to leave, yet it has a policy of trying to rehire staff it has allowed to go. It is contradictory from the Department's perspective. The Department is targeting personnel who left and, at the same time, is letting personnel go because of a rigid contractual regime. An urgent review is needed. What is occurring could contribute to a serious haemorrhaging of numbers if there is not an urgent policy change in this space. I ask the Minister of State to carry out the review urgently in the spring of this year because his White Paper target will be way off by this time next year if he does not.

It is like comparing apples and oranges. We said we would encourage those with expertise to return to the organisation. If a pilot who retires at 35 years and who has gone to the United Arab Emirates or elsewhere in the Middle East, or who has gone into the private sector for five years, wants to come back into the organisation and has something to offer, it would be acceptable. What is occurring mainly affects enlisted members of the organisation.

They also have expertise.

A number of issues have to be considered. The Deputy may compare the Defence Forces to defence forces in Australia and elsewhere but those countries have large military organisations that may be five, six or ten times the size of ours. One cannot compare other militaries to ours. I attended the PDFORRA conference in 2017. PDFORRA understands my views on this and where I would like to get to. There is work going on. I understand where the Deputy is coming from and the representative association will be kept informed.

Question No. 4 answered with Question No. 1.