Soldiers want pay link with gardai restored

 

Soldiers' representatives are meeting here to discuss a campaign in support of pay increases which they say are needed to bring them into line with gardai and prison officers.

The general secretary of the Permanent Defence Forces Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA), Mr John Lucey, said they sought a pay increase "without confrontation" but that the conference would "consider in detail all aspects of our future negotiating policy in relation to pay and conditions of service".

Soldiers are precluded under law from industrial action, but during the summer the leaders of PDFORRA picketed the headquarters of the Defence Forces in Dublin. The association referred to it as a two-week "press conference" in the street. It was the first time such a protest had been made.

Last night Mr Lucey said the recent pay increases granted to gardai, after two days of effective strike measures, and to prison officers meant that the traditional pay ratios had been broken.

Gardai, he said, had gained 12 per cent and prison officers 8.5 per cent, and PDFORRA would be seeking to make up the difference in the current round of pay negotiations.

PDFORRA members are currently balloting on a pay increase of 7 per cent under the last public sector pay round.

"In the past our negotiating system has failed," Mr Lucey said. "We worked on the basis of promises and trust; the official side has not delivered.

"We stand here today as private soldiers on maximum pay of £268 per week while a prison officer gets £413 before generous overtime payments. Is this justice? Is this equality?

"Our previous system of negotiation has not worked to our satisfaction, so in terms of justice and equality it must work in the future."

PDFORRA will be seeking extraordinary increases for parity with gardai and prison officers in the next public-sector pay round beginning in 2000.

Mr Lucey accused governments of reneging on promises to increase recruitment and expenditure and said the Permanent Defence Forces were a "laughing stock" in Europe. He said the Republic could not fulfil its security obligations to Europe or the United Nations because of lack of funding and equipment.

He also referred to the security situation in Northern Ireland, pointing out that while there had been a political agreement, "it would be remiss and downright negligent for any government not to realise the potential threat which can materialise for years to come and be in a position to deal effectively with situations as they arise."

He also touched on the issue of compensation payments to soldiers seeking damages for hearing disability and, in the past week, for post-traumatic stress disorder. Some 13,538 claims by soldiers for hearing disability compensation, which could cost the State around £500 million, are currently being processed and many more are expected. There are a further 700 compensation claims which are not related to hearing including eight for stress-related complaints.

Mr Lucey said there had been a campaign to "destroy" the Defence Forces over the hearing compensation issue, and this had caused morale to be at an all-time low.