Lack of employment rights impacting Defence Forces recruitment crisis, expert says

Lack Of Employment Rights Impacting Defence Forces Recruitment Crisis, Expert Says
Issues facing Defence Forces members are worsened by the fact that they are not covered by provisions of Irish employment law that protect other workers, according to an employment lawyer
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James Cox

Exclusion from legal provisions that protect Irish employees is one of the major factors behind the recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Forces, according to an employment lawyer.

The strength of the Defence Forces has fallen below 8,000 for the first time in decades.


Barry Crushell is an employment law solicitor and former army officer, who served with the United Nations on multiple deployments.

Mr Crushell told "The major issue that the Defence Forces is facing surrounds pay and conditions of service. Fewer people are now being asked to do the same amount of work. Ten years ago the Defence Forces had a strength of 12,000... now it has a strength of just over 7,000 and yet the commitment that Defence Forces members has remains the same in terms of national and international obligations.

"What this is creating is additional demands on ordinary serving members who are now effectively voting with their feet by walking out of the Defence Forces to civilian jobs, where there is better pay for the work that they undertake, long-term career prospects and better general conditions of service."

Issues facing Defence Forces members are worsened by the fact that they are not covered by provisions of Irish employment law that protect other workers.


Mr Crushell explained: "Irish employment law is generally there to protect the most vulnerable workers in society, many of the protections that would otherwise be afforded to Defence Forces members are absent due to specific provisions that Defence Forces members are excluded from. These acts include the Organisation of Working Times Act, the Payment of Wages Act and the Unfair Dismissals Act.

"Effectively Defence Forces members have no real mechanism to address their individual working condition concerns."

He added: "Although the Defence Forces is unique and operational requirements need to be conducted outside of the considerations or risk from an employment law perspective... it's my considered opinion that the absence of application of these safeguards to serving members, and the inability of serving members to seek redress through the Workplace Relations Commission or Labour Court doesn't create the same deterrent for Defence Forces management to act in a particular way in how they treat members.

'Abuses of employment law rights'

"If an ordinary employee was treated in the same way as most Defence Forces members are being treated they would have a plethora of potential claims they could bring against their employer through the WRC. Defence Forces members don't have that and so there is no wooden spoon that the Government face for what I would call these abuses of employment law rights."


Mr Crushell said the majority of people who leave the Defence Forces do it with "a deep sense of regret".

"Most people who join the Defence Forces don't do so because of the pay and conditions, but most people who leave the Defence Forces do so because of the pay and conditions.

"They have a passion for serving their country, being in uniform, but unfortunately that does not pay the bills. When you add on top of that the disruption a Defence Forces life invariably can have on a family dynamic very often conditions become so intolerable that they have no other option but to leave."

He said he feels a lack of political will is one of the main problems facing the Defence Forces.


"There was an older slogan in the Defence Forces 'a life less ordinary'. People didn't want a 9-5 or a routine, and they joined the Defence Forces for reasons other than pay. However, they are often compelled to exit the organisation at a later stage in their careers because pay and conditions of service don't match their expectations at a particular stage in life.

If drastic action isn't immediately taken we will see an acceleration of people leaving the Defence Forces.

"At this stage it's a vicious cycle. The more of a drip, drip exit, the harder it becomes for those in the ranks to stay because they are picking up the slack for the colleagues who have left. If drastic action isn't immediately taken we will see an acceleration of people leaving the Defence Forces. One of the problems the Defence Forces has is they are not as public facing as doctors, nurses, teachers or gardaí.

"There is generally a political backlash that politicians face when members of the public don't have access to hospitals, don't feel safe in their communities, don't have access to other public services. Whereas when Defence Forces numbers drop, it doesn't have the same immediate negative consequences for members of the public and therefore the political will to address the concerns is not as great. I just don't think the political will is there."


A recent Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) survey found the majority of people leaving the Defence Forces would not recommend it as a career to friends and family.

Mr Crushell pointed to this as an example of the low morale contributing to recruitment and retention problems.

"There is very little I could do for Defence Forces members if they came to me. In the past people have said 'these are my hours, this is my pay', and I would see clear breaches but because Defence Forces members are excluded from these acts my hands are tied.

"It can only get worse if the numbers continue to dwindle and the workload remains the same. People will be working more hours and not getting paid any significant amount extra for that work."

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