Government rolls the dice in attempt to stem military defections

Hopes pinned on package of €10m in increased allowances and potential future rises

If they remain, the Government’s measures will be seen to have succeeded. If large numbers leave, Minsters will face significant problems. File photograph: The Irish Times

If they remain, the Government’s measures will be seen to have succeeded. If large numbers leave, Minsters will face significant problems. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

The Government has taken a gamble. It is hoping that a €10 million package of increased allowances, which come into effect immediately, along with the potential for further rises in future will be sufficient to address an extremely serious staff retention crisis in the Defence Forces.

Ministers are aware that if anything like the 60 per cent of serving enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers who told the Public Service Pay Commission that intended to leave in the next two years actually depart, the consequences for the Defence Forces would be devastating.

Most members of the public do not come into contact with the Defence Forces on a routine basis. However, as the Government discovered when the health service support staff went on strike last week, those who appear invisible but who carry out essential tasks can be greatly missed when absent.

The commission’s report warns that essential Air Corp services are now in jeopardy due to a shortage of pilots.

Any threat, for example, to the helicopter medical evacuation service operated by the Air Corps in the Midlands and west of Ireland would more than likely lead to political uproar, as would any incident that occurred if a bomb disposal team was unavailable.

But the Government also appears determined that the provision of new financial incentives for military personnel cannot undermine its overall agreement covering more than 300,000 employees across the public service.

The accord is already creaking on foot of the Government’s agreement with nurses following their strike earlier this year.

Apart from the immediate increase in allowances, the Government also held out the potential of further increases in the future. It promised, for example, a review of technical pay for about 2,500 staff with specialist skills in the Defence Forces.

However, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe pointed out that this process could take some time and would feed into the next overall round of public service pay talks.

In the light of its settlement with the nurses, the Government has faced a number of demands from other public service groups and this is likely to intensify in the wake of its decision to reverse cuts to a range of allowances for members of the Defence Forces in 2013.

Will pay rise produce ripple effect?

At that time, the then government reduced allowances across the public service and not just for military personnel. Groups such as teachers followed the day’s events and last night warned that they also want the cuts to their allowances reversed.

The big question posed by the Government’s €10 million initiative is will it be sufficient to stem the haemorrhage of personnel from the Defence Forces.

Fianna Fáil and the officers’ association, Raco, suggested it would not be.

Raco argued that in real terms the increase in the military service allowance was worth “about 96 cent gross for a private solider, about €1.30 for an officer and €1.70 for a non-commissioned officer”.

Ultimately, the answer will be determined by whether personnel who had been waiting for the commission’s report before making up their mind decide to stay or to go.

If they remain, the Government’s measures will be seen to have succeeded. If large numbers leave, Minsters will face major problems in the time ahead.

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