"Better alignment of leave provisions to make it more equitable amongst the forces."
Look who's laughing now
Not everyone feels quite the same way, as this news story for the Canberra Times pointed out . . .
– EXCLUSIVE –
Soldiers on operational duty in the Middle East have condemned the government’s below inflation pay offer, saying it will leave many of them worse off.
The government’s offering of a 1.5 percent increase in base pay over the next years. But before service personnel receive the extra money, they must agree to trade-in “discretionary” recreational leave. Many soldiers insist this represents an effective pay freeze.
One officer, who could be asked to serve in Iraq, says he’s done the numbers. “I’ll actually be going backward.” He pulls out his iPhone to demonstrate his basic calculations. (In order not to identify this individual, no amounts will be referred to, however the Canberra Times is confident of the figures involved.)
Because Defence allows service personnel to purchase extra leave, it’s possible for those who receive it to calculate exactly how much the government’s offer is worth. For many, the news isn’t good.
“The government’s pay increase will give me so much. But if I want to buy the leave I’m giving up, I’ll be out of pocket. As you can see,” the officer continues, “I’m effectively getting a pay cut. I’m being told to give up more in leave than I’ll get back in cash.”
The government has defended its move on the grounds that not everyone enjoys such leave provisions.
The Chief of the Defence Force last week told a parliamentary hearing that what had been traded off was widely perceived as being “inequitably enjoyed” across the three services. Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin said he’s electing to convert the discretionary provisions to salary, to make certain everyone would gain.
“Rather than have something that was inequitable across the organisation, I elected to look at that and to convert that to … salary across the ADF”, the Air Chief Marshal said. This, “took away the discretionary [nature] of what was there, acknowledging that our workforce still gets a lot of leave throughout the year”.
It’s understood the government effectively told the CDF to find a way to make the pay rise happen. Trading-off leave meant it could avoid the politically disastrous perception of a pay freeze. The government was, however, determined to bring the budget back under control. Pay and allowances are consuming an increasing amount of the allocation to defence.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Mark Thompson points out that over the past 20 years, the earnings of politicians have outstripped those of service personnel by 140 percent.
Since 1991 federal politicians’ pay has grown by 250 percent while average earnings are up by 160 percent. Dr Thompson says ADF salaries have grown merely 110 percent in this same period.
The salaries of the top commanders won’t be affected by the changes. That’s because they’re now indexed with other statutory appointment holders.
After a sizeable pay increase, the CDF now earns more than $800,000, significantly more than just a few years ago. Nevertheless, although the chiefs have received “catch-up” pay; their other conditions – such as personal staff or ‘batmen’ – have been slashed.
The effect of these changes has been to dramatically alter the pay structure of the services, making them considerably less egalitarian. This has reflected trends in the civilian workforce.
A senior NCO in the Middle East is equally dismissive. “As soon as the news came out on a Friday afternoon, when none of us could respond, we knew it wouldn’t be good. A 4.5 percent pay-rise over the next three years; CPI at 3 percent per year; that’s a 9 percent total decrease over the same period.”
This soldier is scathing. “That equates to a 4.5 percent pay cut. A loss in real wages. And for the privilege; those in front-line units are giving up six days leave.
“No change would have been better,” says the senior NCO. “Fucking pay decrease, more like it.”