Thursday, 7 November 2019

Ceisteanna (1)

Jack Chambers


1. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of the implementation of the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission's report on the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45895/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

I am seeking an update from the Minister of State on the implementation of the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission's report on the Defence Forces. He will be aware that we have passed quarter 1 post-publication of the report. We need a detailed assessment regarding the Government's commitments under the report and the timelines in that regard. There is concern among the representative associations that while the report was published with great fanfare on the part of the Minister of State, he is not living up to his side of the bargain in terms of commitments. I ask him to set out the detail of what has happened and if all of the timelines have been met.

I have heard that language before from another party.

The Public Service Pay Commission, PSPC, report on recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, was accepted in full by Government. A comprehensive implementation plan entitled, Strengthening our Defence Forces - Phase One, was also published by Government.

The PSPC report recommended a range of measures that will result in immediate and future benefits for members of the PDF. The measures include: 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; and the restoration of a service commitment scheme for Air Corps pilots.

These measures are currently being implemented following their acceptance by the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, which is welcomed. These measures, which will cost €10 million per annum, are in addition to increases in pay which members of the PDF are receiving under the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the most recent being a 1.75% increase in annualised salaries from 1 September 2019.

The Government's plan also provides for further measures in the short, medium and longer term. It sets out timelines to deliver on the PSPC recommendations. This work, under my direction, is being prioritised by civil and military management and includes a review of pay structures in the PDF, led by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the identification of pay-related retention measures, which is within my remit.  Both of these measures will be progressed within the framework of the public service stability agreement and future public sector pay negotiations.  A range of other pay and non-pay related actions are also being progressed.

Of the ten projects being led by my Department, civil and military, eight are up and running and are broadly on track.

These projects include a review of technical pay, which will affect enlisted personnel who are specialists. The review is well advanced, with an initial priority focus on technical specialists in the Air Corps, Naval Service and Communications and Information Services, CIS, Corps.

Options for incentivising longer service for certain non-commissioned officer, NCO, and officer ranks, in particular those with specialist skills undergoing a significant loss of experience, are being developed and this will feed into future pay negotiations.

There is also a range of non-pay projects, on which work is under way or due to commence. These include a review of recruitment methods, enhanced workforce planning, enhanced professional military education, bespoke leadership training, development of a mental health and well-being strategy, a review of barriers to extended participation in the PDF, the development of further non-pay retention measures and consideration of the provision of additional specialist posts in certain areas.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

I am confident that all of the measures contained in the plan, coupled with pay benefits being delivered by the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, will address the recruitment and retention challenges being experienced by the PDF.

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 under way.

I thank the Minister of State. The question relates to the outcomes of these measures. For example, what are the outcomes in the context of the incentivised long-term arrangement for NCOs and officers, the assessment of barriers to extended participation in the PDF, the examination of bespoke management training for leaders and management, the review of the well-being audit that was supposed to be have been conducted by 4 October 2019, the examination of additional specialists posts in certain areas and the review on tech pay, a matter about which PDFORRA is concerned? These outcomes are the measurement of the PSPC report. There is no point listing the general detail without giving the outcome of the measures which the Government committed to have completed by quarter 1 following publication of the report. The Minister of State has not provided outcomes. Rather, he has provided headline details. That is of serious concern because if he is failing in quarter 1, this whole process will collapse and he will lose the buy-in from the representative associations.

RACO and PDFORRA have accepted the independent pay commission's report.

I presume Deputy Jack Chambers would have preferred if they had not accepted it. Then he would have something to give out about. I am delighted they accepted it. I understand that the Deputy was not expecting it himself. Broadly speaking, for the majority of projects the times are currently being met. Of the 15 projects, five are being led by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, of which four projects were dependent on acceptance of the pay agreement and of associated recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission, which has now occurred. The fifth project, the review of pay structures, is a medium-term project being led by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The remaining ten projects are being led by my Department, of which eight are up and running as follows. The review of technical pay, R2, is well advanced with an initial priority for the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Communications and Information Services Corps, CIS. This was to be focused on one group but I insisted that we prioritise the three areas in which we have the most challenges, namely the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the CIS. Maybe if the Deputy thinks I should take one of them out, he will tell me which one. The project on the incentivised long service pay arrangement is progressing well. A draft report has been prepared and is currently under consideration with the Department of Defence and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Project R5 is nearing completion. Project R6 is progressing well and is on target for completion next year. Project R7 is on target and significant research is ongoing through the Defence Forces mental health and well-being working group. Project R8, the review of current retention strategies, is complete and research into the retention measures within the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, is nearing finalisation. The focus of the project has now moved to proposing further non-pay measures.

I have been speaking to representative associations. Of course they accepted the miserly increase the Minister of State gave them. However, we also have to look at the research from the pay commission which said that three in five will leave the PDF in the next two years. If the Minister of State and his team are not meeting the outcomes around retention initiatives that are listed in the specific timelines referenced in the pay commission process, the delays will result in bigger retention difficulties for our Naval Service, Army and Air Corps. The concern is that their answers are not being received for PDFORRA and RACO from the Minister of State's side of the House when it comes to the outcomes of these recommendations. The Minister of State can say that the reviews are ongoing and things are broadly on track but that is just nebulous nonsense. People are still leaving. The rate of attrition and the exodus are still ongoing and we have collapsing structures that have not changed since the outcome of the pay commission report. If the Minister of State wants a bit of praise about it, fine, but the outcome is that we are heading towards 8,000, which is far away from the target of 9,500. The failure and legacy of the Minister of State will be around how he has allowed the Defence Forces to collapse on his watch and also how he did not provide a pressing brief on his Department so that he matched the outcomes that are referenced in the pay commission structures.

The Deputy is totally incorrect. I would not call the public service pay allowances miserly. The military service allowance has increased by 10%. This constitutes a benefit to any individual of up to €675 per annum. Then we have the reversal of the cuts under Haddington Road, the security duty allowance, the patrol duty allowance, the weekend duty allowances, the explosive ordnance disposal, EOD, allowances, the Army Ranger Wing allowance and the peacekeepers' allowance. I do not believe any of these allowances are miserly. The Deputy has been in here for the last years talking about the duty allowance yet now that we have restored those allowances, he has never once welcomed their restoration. I know it does not suit his narrative, that is the way it is. He does not do good news.

The Minister of State does fake news.

He wants negativity and I presume that is what Opposition is all about. I am not going to deal in negativity this morning. I am not going to kowtow to the Deputy's sentiments. I will look at the positives of the Defence Forces and of being a member of the Defence Forces. The Public Service Pay Commission is a start and I have stated that. I know the Deputy does not want to hear the updates on the implementation plan.

I want the updates.

There are good updates. I asked the Deputy which one of the technical pay groups he would take out and he has not answered that question. I insisted instead of going for one that we would go for three, with the Naval Service, the Air Corps and the CIS. If we had gone for one it might be completed by now but I insisted that we go with three because we had three challenging areas. If the Deputy wants to take one out, he has failed to answer that question.