I am the general secretary of PDFORRA and a serving corporal in the ordnance corps. I am joined by Mr. Mark Keane, president of PDFORRA, who is a petty officer serving in the Naval Service; Mr. Martin Bright, deputy secretary general of PDFORRA and a senior non-commissioned officer, NCO, who has spent his career serving in the infantry corps, both unit and formation headquarters; and Mrs. Amie Timmins, a member of our national executive who currently serves as a corporal in the military police corps. In the Visitors Gallery is the vice president of PDFORRA, Mr. Donogh Maguire, who is a private in an infantry unit. Between us, we have given more than 130 years service to the State and its citizens, including a significant amount of overseas service. PDFORRA does not operate a military rank structure. We represent all ranks of enlisted personnel throughout the Defence Forces. I thank the committee for affording us the opportunity to appear before it.
PDFORRA was established under the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990 and represents more than 6,500 enlisted members of the Defence Forces. Depending on recruit and cadet numbers, up to 90% of enlisted personnel are members of our organisation. Our membership encompasses all branches of service, including the Naval Service, Air Corps and Army. PDFORRA has seen and welcomes the significant level of engagement by the committee on Defence Forces issues over the past year and believed it would be opportune to seek an audience with it after the publication of the report of the Public Service Pay Commission. The association believed that such engagement would provide PDFORRA with the opportunity to discuss the findings and recommendations of the report and to apprise the committee of the difficulties faced by our membership. It will come as no surprise to the committee that central to these difficulties are the issues of pay and allowances afforded to members of the Defence Forces, the application of the working time directive and the difficulties being experienced by personnel vis-à-vis their contracts of service. The meeting will also afford members the opportunity to explore with us any areas they consider relevant in the context of their duties as Members of the Oireachtas.
When I requested an audience with the committee a number of weeks ago, I expected that the report of the Public Service Pay Commission would be published last week and before I submitted our written statement.
This has resulted in current rates only being equal to 10.9% of the salary of a private on the first point of the scale and 6.52% of the salary of a private at the top of the scale.
Accordingly, it must be appreciated that the value placed on the additional hours worked by personnel is undervalued considerably - much more so than it was 30 years ago. PDFORRA contests that no other area of the public service or Civil Service has suffered such a devaluation.
Many other areas of the association's 2018 submission remain unexplored. These must be addressed to arrest the current outflow of personnel. Failure to grasp the nettle now will result in the repeat of the mistakes of the past.
The application of the working time directive has an important bearing on the rates of pay and the feelings of being valued as employees. While the directive is primarily concerned with the welfare, health and safety of employees, when it is not implemented it leads to employees feeling that their employer does not care about their welfare.
Additionally, when CSO figures are presented on average earnings, they are given over average times. Within the Defence Forces no time records exist, yet all members know they are working far longer hours than the average, which leads to the conclusion that they are well below the average in pay, significantly above the average in time worked and, consequentially, the worst paid and undervalued public servants in the country.
Much of the current difficulties arise from a 1989 declaration to the Gleeson commission that "the provision of overtime is an anathema to military service". PDFORRA has long held the view that the member of the general staff who made that statement undermined the entitlement of our members to a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. He is, no doubt, still held in high regard within the Department of Finance.
The foregoing assertion raised the concept of duty to a level beyond the need to appreciate human dignity and basic needs of members, their wives-partners and children. Why does it have to be said, and not appreciated as a matter of course, that the welfare, health and safety of members of the Defence Forces is no less worthy of protection during non-operational periods as the next citizens?
However, many are still caught in the foregoing mindset, despite the realisation that our personnel are our greatest asset. The concept that the sum does not work without the parts has been lost on some. For example, recent discussions at conciliation and arbitration show a desire to have significant periods of our member’s time exempt from the scope of consideration under the directive. This will not work. Time has value. Our association has no intention of repeating the mistakes of the past.
I am, however, pleased to report that some progress on this issue has been made in the past number of weeks. It has again come following the initiation of legal action by our association and long arduous exchanges of correspondence. From the perspective of PDFORRA, there needs to be greater engagement with the realisation that the longer the delay in implementing the working time directive, in a bespoke manner, the greater the negative impact on both the reputation of the Defence Forces and retention of currently serving members.
Finally on the issue of contracts, PDFORRA has spent the better part of 25 years fighting for appropriate contracts for personnel. The association has expended considerable resources down through the years attempting to address an issue that goes to the heart of service. In effect, from the day and hour personnel enter service, they are counting down until they are discharged - regardless of personal circumstances or ability. This impacts on loyalty.
Currently, a lacuna exists in respect of privates and corporals who have enlisted since 1994. They are allowed to remain in service until the end of 2022, or until they reach 50 years of age. Currently, sergeants who attain 50 years of age are also to be discharged. This is wrong. This is a sinful waste of critical experience and loyalty at a time numbers departing are in freefall.
Simply put, pay and allowances for our members must be addressed appropriately or no functioning organisation will exist. Our association asks that the issue of regularisation of contracts needs to be raised by Oireachtas committee members into the future. The application of the working time directive is something that our association can, and will, press in the courts if need be.
I respectfully ask the committee to re-invite PDFORRA to discuss issues on a six-monthly or annual basis. This would not be a wasted exercise. The Defence Forces belong to the members and the citizens and, at this point in our nation’s history, they need to be minded by them and the democratic institutions of the State. They need the Oireachtas to care for them through what will no doubt be a rocky road to recovery. In the foregoing respect, PDFORRA intends to honour the thoughts of Patrick Pearse when he said:
We have not lost. To refuse to fight would have been to lose; to fight is to win. We have kept faith with the past, and handed on a tradition to the future.
PDFORRA intends to fight and hand on a better Defence Forces to those who come after us, our children, our nephews and nieces, our comrades.
I thank our members and their families for standing by us, and for helping PDFORRA bolster the case for increases in allowances. On behalf of our members, I wish to thank the committee for its work.