Neil James – ADF pay deal – Key Problems Remain Institutionalised

2 Dec 2014

The decision to reverse reductions to defence force allowances and leave entitlements is welcomed but wider issues remain unresolved.

Our defence force is, and needs to be, a thoroughly apolitical institution and all governments have a reciprocal obligation to avoid politicising it 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 at the time to some, but they ignored the longstanding imperative against politicising the ADF or picking on those forbidden to defend their rights.

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

First, 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, 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 by sacrificing the income their families depend on.

Fourth, we need to revise the flawed methods of identifying and measuring so-called “productivity savings” in a defence force, especially where these resulted 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 saving to the taxpayer.

Even any notional or supposed “costs” saved would also have been cancelled out by the resultant decreases in equity, morale and eventually personnel retention.

Not least because recruiting and training their replacements would cost much more.

Neil James
Executive Director
Australia Defence Association