Opinion – Determining ADF Pay Fairly means Independent Representation and a Truly Independent Tribunal

16 Nov 2014

If ADF personnel want to stop further unfair pay determinations they need to join the Defence Force Welfare Association and help the DFWA to represent them independently at the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal. The DFRT also needs to be made truly independent says Neil James  of The Australian Defence Association

Letter to The Canberra Times
Thursday, 06 November 2014
(published Tuesday, 11 November 2014)

John Passant (Letters, November 6) suggests ADF personnel unionise themselves. If only it was so easy.

The last time our defence force was truly unionised was The English army was unionised in 1647 after parliament refused to pay its soldiers for winning the first civil war for them. It did not end well all around.

Since then various Mutiny Acts, and in Australia’s case the 1903 Defence Act, proscribe union-style, but not necessarily other, collective representation in our defence force.

After the Fraser government’s nationwide pay freeze was unfairly extended to only the ADF by the Hawke government for a further two years, the Armed Forces Federation of Australia (ArFFA) was created in 1984 as a “non-strike” professional representative association modelled on the former state police associations that predated modern police unionism.

While ArFFA’s membership crossed all ranks most came from the “coal-face” leadership of sergeant to lieutenant colonel equivalents. However, the federation collapsed in December 2006, despite 22 years of independently and effectively representing the ADF in pay negotiations, when its membership declined through complacency.

Moreover, while ArFFA’s first president was a brigadier, its last was a flight sergeant, and ArFFA’s demise also represented collective and individual leadership failures by the ADF’s officer corps.

When fielding numerous (misdirected) emails and calls over the last few weeks bewailing the unfairness of the latest ADF pay case, the ADA has asked each interlocutor whether they were once ArFFA members, or now regretted not having supported the federation when they had the chance. Many sheepish admissions have resulted.

If you are a serving or former ADF member learn two lessons.
First, get off your backside and join the (non-union) Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA).
Second, if the ADF is to be the last significant part of the Australian workforce subject to centralised wage fixing — and there is no real alternative — parliament must make the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal truly independent and fair rather than perpetuate the 1647 situation.