Friday, September 05, 2008

Defence state

As various people like MPs debate the Armed Forces report on the poor state of readiness and personnel, the head honcho Defence Minister shows the typical support those on the cocktail circuit in Wellington have always given to the cattle class front line personnel. You know, the personnel that actually do the work. As expected, the LtGen is also currently doing his level best to deny there is any problem.

Defence Minister argues there is nothing to see here, move along. Typical Liarbour response. All will be fixed with new machinery and new personnel. Trouble is there will be nobody trained for new ships and gear. Recruiting is not working because of pay and conditions always being behind civvy street.

As one that served my country with pride in the Navy for the best part of a quarter of a century, I have witnessed this ongoing saga of personnel issues.

Every few years, there is a personnel crisis, which initially gets covered up by pulling personnel from shore based training to cover sea going positions and keep ships at sea. Underlying trouble is that core pay does reflect true worth of being at sea at work 24x7 in a strict miltary environment. Eventually crisis gets so bad that training ships are pulled because all the personnel are on the operational ships. At this stage few with experience are ashore training new intakes and also there is massive problem with recruiting.

No-one wants to do a 24x7 job these days unless they are well paid for it. And the Forces pay, whilst rarely enjoying a slight margin over civilian rates, never really compensates for the long times at sea away from family.

Of the pay rises I enjoyed during my service, most were hard fought to get anything out of a cornered government of the day and only played a long overdue catchup. Never any mention of a COLA each year being guaranteed.

Five years later again after such a rise, exactly the same issues were on the table, personnel despondent, more time on sea rotations, voting with their feet leaving for higher civvy pay and more family time.
All without the never ending "Yessir, three bags full Sir!".

Left a few more years and reports such as those recently received make it to the cocktail circuit in Wellington.

So what needs to happen Phil and Jerry is that you need to pay your personnel decently and with a large margin above civvy street. Not just a get even exercise every 7-10 years. Secondly you need to guarantee ongoing rises linked to inflation from there on in.

And you need to publicly support the real Forces personnel like the do in Australia with free public transport while in uniform. And often.

No comments: