Australian soldiers, sailors and Air Force personnel may be facing the same below-inflation wage offer as their civilian Defence Department counterparts.
And the Defence Department boss Dennis Richardson ordered an investigation on Friday into the leaking of his department’s position on wages and conditions before it had been put to its 20,000 public servants.
The Canberra Times revealed on Friday that Defence was set to offer its civilian workforce a pay deal worth less than 0.9 per cent, more than 2 per cent below the headline inflation rate.
The leaked pay position, signed off by the department’s powerful Defence Committee, also calls for its workers to give up two paid days off each year and give up pay and career progressions and other benefits.
The office of Defence Minister David Johnston confirmed on Friday that Mr Richardson had ordered his department to find who was responsible for leaking the documents that revealed the hardline bargaining position.
As the department refused to comment publicly on the revelations, one of Mr Richardson’s deputy secretaries Rebecca Skinner wrote to unions saying the department was not ready to begin wage talks and did not say when the process could start.
A wage determination for Australia’s 57,000 men and women in uniform is due in October, and their pay offer has traditionally closely mirrored that offered to civilian counter parts.
The last military wage determination gave Army, Navy and Airforce members pay rises worth 9 per cent over three years.
Military advocacy group the Defence Welfare Association says it is very worried at the prospect of a pay offer of less than 0.9 per cent per year with annual inflation now running at 3 per cent.
“We are worried, we’re particularly concerned that some of the other service conditions might be taken away too," association President David Jamison said.
“What they’re doing is counter-productive because the separation rate will increase and it's really expensive to train service personnel.
“A lot of our bases are in high cost-of-living areas and the bulk of our service people who are the lower ranks, they don’t have a lot of disposable income, so it’s just going to be harder.”
Mr Jamison, a retired colonel, called on the government to live up to its frequent praise of the efforts of the Defence Force with a reasonable wage offer.
“We just hope that the government will honour their fine words about how much they appreciate the work of service men and women, ensuring they treat them fairly," Mr Jamison said.
Technical union Professionals Australia said it was frustrated that Defence bosses would still not come to the bargaining table despite their plans for wages going public.
“They’re not denying that the position that was leaked was their true position and yet they’re still not prepared to bargain,” the union’s ACT director Dave Smith said.
Labor’s Defence spokesman Brendan O’Connor said he too was worried that the Defence Force was being lined up for the same treatment as the department’s public servnats.
“The real concern about the draft document that applies to the Defence Department is that it will also most likely apply the Australian Defence Force personnel,” the shadow minister said.
“In fact that's clear in the drafted document.”
Mr O’Connor said he too believed a leak investigation had been ordered.
“I understand that the Minister for Defence is very concerned about these matters getting a public airing,” the Labor frontbencher said.
“Well I think this government’s got to learn to become transparent and treat its own staff with some dignity.”