Automatic promotions in Defence Forces may return

In bid to retain staff Government expected to review status quo

Defence Forces members. File photo. Photograph: Alan Betson

Defence Forces members. File photo. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Government is considering re-introducing automatic promotions after a fixed period of time for specialist officers in the Defence Forces as part of a new initiative to deal with recruitment and retention problems.

The promotional arrangement for specialists service officers such as engineers and doctors was ended in 2015. The Government believed at the time that the notion of fixed-period promotions as a right was not in keeping with the principles of merit-based promotion as set out in recent public service agreements.

However, it is expected the Government will indicate next week that it is prepared to review the issue.

Military authorities told the recent Public Service Pay Commission that the removal of the fixed-period promotion scheme four years ago affected retention rates for all specialist officers including staff in the engineer, ordnance and communication corps.

The Government is expected to come under pressure over the next fortnight as pay, recruitment and retention issues will dominate the annual conferences of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), and the Permanent Defence Forces Other Ranks Representative Association (PDForra).

In July, the Government announced a €10 million package of staff retention measures including a 10 per cent increase in the military service allowance, which is paid to most members of the Defence Forces; the restoration of other payments cut after the economic crash; and the re-introduction of a loyalty bonus for pilots. However the military representative bodies argued the measures are insufficient to stem the numbers leaving.

Earlier this month, President Michael D Higgins intervened on the issue and said that it “should not be too much to expect” that military personnel were paid an income that is sufficient to provide for themselves and their families.

The Department of Defence said at the end of July there were 8,701 personnel in the Defence Forces, and this had fallen to 8,653 by the end of August.

However the Government does not accept that this reduction indicated unhappiness with the pay proposals announced at the beginning of July.

A spokesman for the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence Paul Keogh said the increases in allowances had not been implemented yet and were pending acceptance by the representative associations.

Delegates at the Raco conference in Kildare on Monday will vote on whether to accept or reject the pay proposals put forward by the Government in July. Raco is expected to press the Government this week for the establishment of a standing pay review body for the Defence Forces – a development now being backed by Fianna Fáil.

Government sources believe such a move would lead to knock-on demands for similar sectoral pay review mechanisms across the public service.

Talks

Both military representative bodies were invited to talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who is also Minister for Defence, last Thursday.

A Government spokesman said the meeting, which was also attended by Mr Keogh and Department of Defence officials “ was an opportunity to discuss how we can work together to strengthen our Defence Forces, including implementing the recent pay review in advance of the next public sector pay deal”.

The Government is not expected next week to announce whether it plans to permit PDForra to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) as an associate member – a move strongly opposed by military leaders.

The Irish Times reported last week that Defence Forces chief of staff Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett warned the Government that such a link up could have implications for State security.

PDForra has indicated that it wants to be covered by Ictu in any future pay negotiations with the Government and that it is not seeking the right to strike.

Government sources said its approval of the proposal for Ictu affiliation was not a fait accompli.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Dáil last week that “while we have to ensure appropriate representation for Defence Forces members, we also have to recognise that the Defence Forces, like the Garda in many ways, are in a different category from other public servants”.