Noel Towell, Reporter for The Canberra Times 10 June 2015
Pay rise locked in, but it will not be backdated, meaning ADF personnel will miss out on $25 million in wages.The backlash from
Australia’s military rank and file against the Abbott government over wages was entirely predictable, according to the Military Remuneration Tribunal.
The official pay body published its final wage determination on Tuesday for the nation’s 57,000 men and women in uniform and included some scathing remarks on how the process was handled.
The government was forced to reverse its position twice after sailors, soldiers and air force personnel mounted a grassroots campaign against moves to cut conditions and entitlements and what was described as an “insulting” pay rise of 1.5 per cent a year.
The eventual position was locked in this week by the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, which also confirmed the pay rises would not be backdated, meaning ADF personnel will miss out on $25 million in wages.
The two government backdowns came after a spirited campaign led by the Australian Defence Force Welfare Association, which mobilised an online backlash from the families of ADF members, with the military personnel themselves barred from taking industrial action.
With crossbench politicians and veterans’ groups later joining the campaign, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was forced to intervene to limit the political damage the row was doing, and increasing the wage deal to 2 per cent a year.
The three-person tribunal wrote on Tuesday that it was quite predictable that the initial proposal, which was well below inflation forecasts at the time, would foment trouble in the ranks.
“In our opinion, prior to the Workplace Remuneration Arrangement first being agreed, it was known or could reasonably have been expected that there would be dissatisfaction with the quantum of the increase,” the tribunal wrote.
“Although we accept the consumer price index has not traditionally been determinative of the quantum of increase (nor should it be) nonetheless it could not have been a surprise that the below CPI quantum of pay increase in the WRA would be criticised.”
Labor’s shadow parliamentary secretary for defence Gai Brodtmann, who also campaigned against the government’s position, was critical on Wednesday morning of the failure to backdate the pay rises.
The Canberra MP also noted the nation’s fighting men and women would have to make do with a pay rise smaller than that recently awarded to workers on the minimum wage.
“Backdating the increase to 12 March instead of the beginning of the WRA does not provide the promised 2 per cent per annum over the life of the agreement,” Ms Brodtmann said.
“On 2 June, the Fair Work Commission awarded a 2.5 per cent increase to the minimum wage, confirming the insult this government has inflicted on the men and women of the ADF.”