Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Ceisteanna (9, 16)

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

9. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps being taken to ensure improved pay and working conditions for members of the Defence Forces; the steps being taken to ensure appropriate supports are available to both current and former members of the Defence Forces that may be experiencing financial difficulties; if he is satisfied that recruitment methods are sufficient; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38550/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

16. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has met the Taoiseach to discuss the Public Sector Pay Commission report on the Defence Forces published on 4 July 2019. [29750/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Ceist ar Defence)

I would like to ask the Minister of State and perhaps more importantly, the Taoiseach, who has overall responsibility, what steps are being taken to ensure better pay and working conditions for the members of the Defence Forces; what steps are being taken to ensure that appropriate supports are available to current and former members who may be experiencing financial difficulties; if he is satisfied that current recruitment measures are sufficient; and if he will make a statement on this matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 16 together.

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 national finances during the financial crisis, as Deputy Aylward will be very much aware. Improvements in the economy have provided an opportunity for the unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation, which imposed pay cuts across the public service 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 focus of these increases is weighted in favour of those on lower pay.

The increases due to date under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 have been paid to members of the Defence Forces, the most recent being a 1.75% increase on annualised salaries from 1 September 2019. Further increases in pay are scheduled in 2020. By the end of the current public service pay agreement, the pay scales of all public servants earning less than €70,000 per annum will be restored to pre-FEMPI levels. The restoration of the 5% reduction in allowances under FEMPI is also scheduled in the agreement.

Pay rates for newly qualified members of the Defence Forces are competitive compared to other areas in the public service and private sector. For instance, a newly qualified three star private can expect to earn €28,205 gross per annum. A newly qualified school leaver-entry officer can expect to earn €36,154 gross per annum, inclusive of the military service allowance. After initial training, a graduate-entry officer can expect to earn €41,193 gross per annum, inclusive of the military service allowance, after initial training. These are just starting pay rates. There are additional opportunities to increase pay through annual increments and promotional opportunities. Basic pay and the military service allowance are just elements of the overall remuneration package available for members of the PDF. A range of duties attract additional allowances while certain positions in the Defence Forces also attract technical pay. The overseas peace support allowance is paid tax free to members of the Permanent Defence Force participating in overseas military operations on the direction of the Government.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Defence Forces are experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties particularly in some areas of specialism.  This is reflective of the economic growth experienced under the current Government and the associated buoyant labour market. We are not unique in this regard. It is being experienced internationally by armed forces.  At my direction, the Department of Defence brought the particular difficulties in recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces to the attention of the Public Service Pay Commission. Arising from the first report of the commission in 2017 and the subsequent public service stability agreement, the Government tasked the commission with undertaking a comprehensive examination and analysis of recruitment and retention in the Defence Force.  

There are regular meetings between the Taoiseach, and other Ministers and I have discussed a range of Defence matters with the Taoiseach and Government colleagues.  The report of the Public Service Pay Commission on recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces was accepted by Government on 4 July 2019. The report contains a broad range of recommendations that will provide immediate benefits to members of the PDF, as well as initiatives that can lead to further improvements. These include a 10% increase in the military service allowance, the restoration to pre-Haddington Road levels of certain specific Defence Forces allowances and the return of an incentive scheme to address pilot retention issues in the Air Corps. These measures will be implemented swiftly on confirmation of their acceptance by the PDF representative associations. 

 The Government has prepared a detailed plan for the implementation of the recommendations in the report of the commission. The measures are aimed at improving workforce planning, recruitment, retention and conditions of service.  The plan also provides for an examination of core pay in the PDF within the context of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations and the completion of a review of technical pay arrangements, concerning grades 2 to 6. The plan sets out timelines with the objectives to deliver on the commission’s recommendations. This work is, under my direction, being prioritised by civil and military management.

Anyone listening to the Minster of State would think everything was hunky-dory in the Defence Forces and that it is an attractive job for people leaving college. The reality, however, is different. We all know there is a dearth of recruits; it is impossible to get them. Ships are tied up, as has been stated. The Minister of State well knows that what he has set out is spiel and untrue. Since the recession, almost ten years ago, the Government has fallen behind in looking after the Defence Forces. The Taoiseach and the Minister of State are responsible. It is time to wake up now and smell the reality. The Government is hiding behind the pay commission report. People in the Defence Forces are being left behind. They have not got fair play and they do not have a union to represent them.

I come from Kilkenny where there is a military barracks. Some of the personnel there are receiving the family income supplement, FIS. Why is that the case if the two minutes of rhetoric the Minster of State just read out is true? I ask him to be honest and own up to what is happening. The members of the Defence Forces are not being properly paid and new recruits are not being attracted. Some 57% of members of the Permanent Defence Force have stated they will leave in the next two years. For more than 80% of those personnel, pay is the primary consideration in reaching the decision to leave.

The Deputy was a Member prior to 2011 when the economy was crushed into the ground. It is an awful pity that he was not as active then as he is now.

I was not the Minister of State with responsibility for defence.

He was a member of the party that was in government at the time.

People were not being treated then as they are now.

When I came into this post, a three-star private was on €21,000. Today, he or she is on €28,205 and can earn up to €38,950. A corporal earns €38,185 and can earn up to €39,921. A sergeant is on €40,877 and can earn up to €43,336. A company sergeant is on €47,309 and can earn up to €50,369 while a sergeant-major is on €51,972 and can up to €55,455. There are ongoing increases under the public service stability agreement and RACO accepted the independent pay commission recommendations yesterday. I hope PDFORRA will do the same.

The Minster of State is repeating what he said. I will also repeat myself then. The reality is that we have to ask why ships are tied up and not at sea. Why are we not able to fulfil our obligations? Why are we so far away from our target of 9,500 people in the Defence Forces? The Minster of State spoke about what happened when Fianna Fáil was in government. He is falling back on that. The turnover in Defence Forces staff at that time was 10%. That is now up to 85%. People have been interviewed and stated that they are going to leave within the next couple of years. That is the reality and that is what he should be talking about, instead of giving us rhetoric about what happened back in 2008. That is the continual refrain.

It is his job to oversee the recruitment of people. I asked him previously about the provision of accommodation. There was always a tradition in towns with military barracks, such as Kilkenny, that people got housing. Could that type of provision be considered again? It might attract some recruits, especially those with families, into the Permanent Defence Force, given the housing crisis. The Minster of State can give us all the rhetoric he wants and list all of the things he did. The reality, however, comes back to the fact that there are ships tied up because of a lack of recruits to staff them.

I ask the Deputy to consider the implementation plan in the context of the pay commission. Accommodation is one of the projects included. We are, however, competing with a strong economy and an economy that recovered under the Fine Gael-led Government from 2011. We now have almost full employment. Unemployment stood at almost 15% when the Deputy's party was last in government. We cannot compare like with like. We are now competing against a strong jobs market. There are great opportunities in the private sector for many people. When I was appointed to this position in 2016, a three-star private was on €21,000. Under my leadership of the Department that private is now €28,205, which is an increase of €7,000. There will also be further increases under the public service stability agreement. The Deputy should take a careful look and consider the scale of those increases.