Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ceisteanna (33)

Michael Healy-Rae


33. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to address issues (details supplied) in regard to the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13039/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (23 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

Gardaí, prison officers and firefighters all serve Ireland dutifully and are to be honoured to the highest standard. However, another group of public servants also deserve to be honoured, that is, the Defence Forces. This patriotic group of public servants are not treated in the same manner as the other groups. Instead, they are paid much lower wages, are ineligible for overtime, must commute long distances to serve and are in a state of chaotic instability.

I am advised that 1,902 personnel left the Permanent Defence Force in the three-year period from 2015 to 2017, inclusive. This includes 459 personnel who did not complete initial training to qualify as three-star privates or officers. Given the unique and demanding nature of military life, there is understandably a relatively high level of turnover among Defence Forces personnel. This is not new and the Permanent Defence Force has always had a level of turnover that far exceeds other areas of the public service.

For example, in the three-year period 2010 to 2012, 1,903 personnel left the PDF. Going back further, 2,282 left in the three-year period 2001 to 2003.

To balance personnel turnover there is significant ongoing recruitment at both enlisted and officer level. During 2017, 751 personnel were inducted into the PDF. This includes general service recruits, apprentices, cadets and direct entry officers.

Unlike other areas of the public service, and due to the nature of the duties performed, overtime payments are not available to members of the Defence Forces. A military service allowance is paid to all ranks up to the level of colonel. Military service allowance is designed to compensate for the special disadvantages associated with military life. This includes unsocial hours of duty, exposure to danger and the restrictions inherent in military discipline. In addition to basic pay and military service allowance, a range of duties attract additional allowances, including security duty and Naval Service patrol duty. Overseas support allowance is paid to members of the PDF participating in overseas military operations on direction of the Government. Certain positions in the Defence Forces also attract specialist pay, with some 3,554 positions in the PDF establishment attracting technical pay.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Defence Forces pay is increasing in accordance with public sector pay agreements. The focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay. 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 the agreement once again being on the lower paid. The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 will also restore pay scales to all public servants, including members of the Permanent Defence Force, earning up to €70,000. The reversal of cuts to allowances will also be considered in the context of the agreement. The first instalment of an increase of 1% on annualised salaries due from 1 January 2018 has been paid to members of the Permanent Defence Force.

The starting pay for newly qualified three-star privates and their Naval Service equivalents, inclusive of military service allowance, is €27,257 gross annual earnings, with scope for further income from duty allowances. This is a significant increase on the €21,800 per annum which was the amount prior to the implementation of the increases in pay received through recent pay agreements. The starting pay for a corporal, including military service allowance, is in excess of €37,000 per annum. The first point on the pay scale for a sergeant, including military service allowance, is €40,000 per annum. As I have outlined, further increases are due under the pay agreement.

The working family payment, formerly the family income supplement, provides a means to supplement the income of working families, be they employees in the public or private sector. Family income and the number of dependants are the key variables in determining eligibility. Pay levels in the public service, including the Defence Forces, relate to requirements for specific positions and are not determined having regard to unique family circumstances.

I have previously stated that there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining specialists in the PDF. This includes pilots and certain other technical specialists. The Government has tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with examining recruitment and retention challenges in the defence sector in more detail. The Public Service Pay Commission has commenced this work and has requested detailed information from the Department of Defence. Defence management is preparing its submission, which will be sent to the commission in the coming weeks. The Public Service Pay Commission is due to complete this exercise in the second half of 2018. The findings and proposals arising will be considered at that time.

The capabilities maintained by the Defence Forces are based on detailed consideration of capability requirements and agreed by military authorities. With the support of the Chief of Staff and within the resources available, the Government is committed to retaining the capacity of the Defence Forces to operate effectively across all roles and to undertake the tasks laid down by Government both at home and abroad.

Why are so many members of the Defence Forces on the working family payment, formerly known as the family income supplement? This is a disgrace. Those who serve our country dutifully should not be paid so little that they are forced to take a supplement that, in the Government's own words, gives extra financial support to people on low pay. I will describe to the Minister of State how little those in the Defence Forces are being paid. They make about €420 for 48 hours' work a week, including some weekends. By comparison, the minimum wage is €9.75, and someone on the minimum wage working 48 hours a week would make €468. Many in the Defence Forces make less than the minimum wage. How is this acceptable? Furthermore, unlike gardaí and other public servants, those in the Defence Forces are excluded from the European working time directive, which means they are not eligible for overtime. This means members of the Defence Forces work long hours for little to no pay. It is therefore no surprise that 2,890 soldiers of all ranks have discharged from the Defence Forces in the past three years. The number one reason for leaving is known to be issues with pay and contracts. This turnover rate leads to chaos within the Defence Forces and a lack of structure and consistency needed for a military organisation.

I know the Deputy is reading from an email and I do not accept everything in the email, but let me-----

I am reading from notes that I have prepared. Sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but I take exception to the Minister of State's comments. He himself is reading from notes that were prepared by officials for him. I am reading from notes that were prepared by people who work with me. I am as entitled to read from a note as the Minister of State is.

The Minister of State has not raised his head once.

Yes, but the Deputy is-----

The Minister of State has been reading from notes since he started here-----

The Minister of State, please.

-----so why did he make a disparaging comment about-----

Please, Deputy Healy-Rae. I ask the Minister of State to continue in a businesslike way.

What I am saying is-----

Hold on, we cannot have two Members standing at the one time.

I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but you know the Minister of State is out of order.

All I will say to the Minister of State is that he should not invite interruptions.

Perhaps the Minister of State might answer the question.

Some of the issues the Deputy has raised in what he has just read out form part of what is called "details supplied" in the question he asked. That is okay; I accept that. However, he refers to the high number of members of the Defence Forces on the working family payment. Less than 1% of the total staff of the organisation is on family income supplement - between 100 and 104, according to the latest figures I received in December 2017. The information he has provided under "details supplied" states there are considerable numbers - far higher than the numbers I have given - which is totally inaccurate. The working family payment is there for a reason, as the Deputy has rightly said, namely, to assist hard-pressed families. This depends on how many kids a member of the Defence Forces has. I have not got time to read it out to the Deputy now but I will send him a note on the pay increases that have been put in place for members of the Defence Forces. There will be full pay restoration under the public service stability agreement for anyone earning under €70,000 per annum. I will get the Deputy the full reply to the question on pay restoration. He was good enough to raise the email I received. I will get him a full reply-----

The Minister of State is well in excess of the allotted time.

-----to that as well.

The Minister of State says there are only so many people on what we will call the family income supplement. No one should have to be on it. People in State jobs in the Defence Forces should earn enough money every week to sustain themselves and their families. They should not have to seek assistance from another arm of the State, namely, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, to allow them to balance their budgets. That is quite simply not acceptable. I am very proud of the work of members of the Defence Forces. The Minister of State knows that when something goes wrong in our country, they are the first people to be called. If there is a problem internationally, if our assistance is sought, we have always been at the forefront. I did not come here to pick a fight with the Minister of State. He might like to pick a fight with me over nothing but I will not rise to that. I ask him to treat these people with the respect they deserve and ensure they have proper remuneration for the excellent work they do. I know in my heart and soul that the Minister of State appreciates their work as well. I urge him to fight at Government level to improve their lot. That is what I am asking him to do in a very ordinary and respectful way, as he would expect me to do so.

I have been doing that and will continue to do so, but we must abide by the public service pay stability agreement as well, and I think the Deputy understands the reasons we must do so. He stated no one should be in receipt of family income supplement. There are members of the Defence Forces who have particular roles or ranks and have no children, or perhaps one or two kids, and then there are those who do the very same job at the very same rank and who could have five, six or seven children. I believe the State should be there to assist those who might be struggling. This is why the family income supplement exists. There is a myth that more than 1,000 members of the Defence Forces are in receipt of family income supplement. This is untrue and unfounded. There are just 100 to 105 members of the Defence Forces in receipt of family income supplement, 1% of the total organisation. The number of people on family income supplement in the Defence Forces, including members from the Department of Defence, must be considered broadly.