Fixing the structural inequities wrongly governing defence force pay and conditions of service

Reversing the abolition of several longstanding conditions of service is welcome but wider reforms are needed to stop such arbitrary mistakes re-occurring. And to stop the ADF as a necessarily apolitical institution being misused, or perceived to be misused, for partisan purposes.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Monday, 01 December 2014
(published Wednesday, 03 December 2014)

The decision to reverse reductions to defence force allowances and leave entitlements is welcome but several structural inequities remain unresolved.

Our defence force is, and needs to be, a thoroughly apolitical institution.

All governments have a reciprocal obligation to avoid politicising the ADF in any way — or even being perceived to do so.

Moreover, the ADF is now the only major part of the national workforce that is still wholly subject to centralised wage-fixing but not permitted, by law, to negotiate outcomes or take other industrial action collectively.

Using the ADF wage case as a bargaining strategy in negotiations with public sector unions may have seemed clever politics to some at the time, but this ignores longstanding imperatives against politicising the ADF and picking on those forbidden to defend the rights all other Australians enjoy.

Finally, no matter whether the remaining below-inflation wage deal is unfair or fiscally necessary or not, four fundamental problems remain.

First, no No Chief of the Defence Force can properly represent both the employer and those employed.

Nor is it either ethical or good leadership in such a two-way-loyalty-based force, subject to statutory discipline, to put them in this situation.

Second, Also the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal needs to be resourced and made independent enough to reject or amend inadequate or otherwise unfair government pay offers.

Third, members of our defence force should not be continually expected to subsidise under-investment by the whole national community in overall defence capabilities, particularly by sacrificing the income their families depend on.

Fourth, we We need to revise the flawed methods of identifying and reaping so-called “productivity savings” in a defence force, especially where this results in proven compensatory entitlements being abolished arbitrarily.

For example, punishing the busiest and most productive parts of the ADF by axing their extra leave — in lieu of overtime for very long hours worked daily — was particularly inept as this is actually a very low-cost productivity-enhancement measure that instead saves the taxpayer money.

Even any notional “costs” reaped would have been cancelled out by the resultant decreases in equity, morale and eventually personnel retention because recruiting and training their replacements would cost much more.

 

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