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Defence

RACO conference: ICTU warns that unions must consider industrial action if pay agreement fails

The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers conference is taking place in Carlow.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 14th 2023, 6:35 PM

A SENIOR OFFICIAL from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has told delegates at a military officers’ conference that unions will have to consider action if a public sector pay agreement is not reached. 

Liam Berney, ICTU Industrial Officer, was addressing the conference of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) in Carlow today.

RACO are associated members of ICTU – the Irish military personnel are unable to engage in any industrial action. The representative body for enlisted personnel, PDFORRA, has also joined ICTU as affiliated members. 

In 2022, the Government announced as part of its Building Momentum pay agreement, that all Public Sector workers in Ireland would receive a 7.5% pay increase by 1st October 2023.

The Building Momentum pay mechanism will expire by the end of the year and as yet no agreement for the next phase of pay increases has been reached. 

Berney said the new pay agreement must be in place by 1 January 2024. 

“Despite the increases in pay achieved in Building momentum they have failed to keep pace with the rate of inflation in the economy.

“While Government has provided once off supports for workers in the form of such things as energy credits it is clear that pay movement in the public sector has not kept pace with the increases in prices.

“While the structure and duration of any new pay agreement is still a matter of speculation it is prudent for unions at this stage to begin to consider what action might be necessary if a new agreement cannot be negotiated,” he said. 

Berney said that ICTU officials were working on securing the pay deal but that he said that a “deal cannot be guaranteed”. 

Berney also said that work is needed to achieve equality for Irish Defence Forces personnel with other public service workers. 

“For equal treatment to become a reality it will require Government and the management of the Defence Forces to be willing to enter into negotiations and make collective agreements with the organisations representing staff in the Defence Forces,”he added. 

Earlier the conference heard that almost half of military officers in the Irish Defence Forces, who responded to a survey, said that they intend to leave their military careers in the next ten years.

The stark finding is contained in a Workplace Climate in the Defence Forces survey compiled by the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO).

The results will be revealed later today as RACO delegates gather in Carlow for day one of the group’s conference. 

Lieutenant Colonel Conor King, the group’s General Secretary said that the findings were “not surprising but certainly worrying”.

“The landscape in which we are operating now is a volatile one for a number of reasons, not least our diminishing numbers as Officers are concerned that without immediate retention measures the working environment may not improve.

“This plays out in the figures which show 44% of members are intending to hang up their Defence Forces uniform within the next 10 years – 27% say they envisage themselves serving for less than five more years. This is very worrying and should sound the alarm for policy makers,” he said. 

King said that there is still hope to reverse the trend if if there is urgent action by Government and military management.

“I believe the Defence Forces is a job that many want to do, however there are currently more attractive positions in the public service and private sector that are causing potential members to overlook the Defence Forces, and that are attracting currently serving experienced members.

“I think we can turn the tide if the political will is there and we reform the working conditions and tackle historic issues once and for all,” he added. 

Among the findings in the survey were that 83% said that the Defence Forces personnel should be entitled to earn overtime – gardaí and other public service employees have that entitlement. 

Results

The survey also shows the retention crisis in real time as 28% are considering retiring from the Defence Forces at the present time, while 40% say they are open to seeking a new job.

When it comes to industrial relations 81% of respondents said that a prohibition on industrial action disadvantages Defence Forces personnel relative to other public servants.

Of those who responded 36% of said that the military should be permitted to take industrial action while 46% disagreed, with the remaining 18% unsure.

There were 69% of respondents who said improving gender balance in leadership and decision-making should be a key objective for Defence Force transformation.

Earlier this year a damning report into allegations of abuse in the military entitled the Independent Review Group was published.

Recently The Journal revealed the terms of reference for a judge led tribunal. 

When asked if the Defence Forces is a safe working environment for personnel, 69% of respondents said ‘yes’, 6% said ‘no’ and 25% said ‘somewhat’ safe.

The survey also enquired if the military officers felt the IRG Report was a fair reflection on the conduct of Commissioned Officers. It found among respondents that 46% believed it to be unfair, while 4% said it was fair and 51% said that it was an accurate reflection of ‘some officers’.

More than a third, 37%, said they feel there is a culture of reprisal within the Defence Forces, with 31% saying there was not, and 32% unsure. 52% said they felt supported by their chain of command.

When it came to Government Policy 97% said the government should do more to promote and support the Defence Forces, with 95% stating that there should be a be a full-time Minister for Defence.

67% of respondents said they felt that the Department of Defence is too involved in the day-to-day running of the Defence Forces.

A final report will be published in the coming weeks and furnished to the Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán Clancy will attend the event.

Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, Micheál Martin was scheduled to address the 2023 RACO Delegate Conference but will be on Government business in the Middle East. He will be replaced by Minister for State Jack Chambers.