Falling morale routs military

Reports that the Defence Force morale has dropped to an all-time low and that people are leaving in droves has the Government considering wage rises to help stem the flow.

The attempt to save the Government $400million by civilianising up to 600 roles rocked morale so badly it led to Rear Admiral Jack Steer, vice-chief of the Defence Force, telling Parliament earlier this year that it would not force any more redundancies because it had been "too damaging".

A long-serving member of the Defence Force at Ohakea, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said that low morale wasn't all about money, it was about loyalty.

"The military is underpinned by loyalty. Once that goes it's every man and woman for themselves and that is not how the military should work.

"The Defence Force wants its people to show loyalty, but it needs to be reciprocated.

"This is a career where success and often survival is about backing each other and trust. There's not a lot of that at the moment."

He said there had been hints that a pay rise might be on the cards but he believed it was too little, too late. He said when jobs started to be civilianised many who weren't going to be affected started looking elsewhere, leaving the Defence Force with a new problem, not enough people.

"They started looking out for themselves and that's fair enough."

Data from the auditor-general showed the Defence Force had lost almost 1000 personnel in the past two years, going from 14,577 to 13,667.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Defence Force had saved $25m by not giving wage rises at the start of this financial year and that there was money for wage adjustments and the Government was looking at what it could do around pay.

Labour's defence spokesman, Iain Lees-Galloway, has accused the Government of driving the Defence Force into the ground.

He said a survey that showed morale was at an all-time low was not surprising after a four-year wage freeze and redundancies.

"This is not a picture of a happy Defence Force that is engaged and enthusiastic about their jobs and protecting our country.

"The low morale is clearly the result of the Government's mishandling of the civilianisation project and ongoing cuts to the Defence budget."

Mr Lees-Galloway said New Zealanders should be concerned about the state of the Defence Force.

"It is an agency that is critical to our security and we cannot afford to see it run down by a government that is not acting in our best interests."

He said it was concerning to see record numbers of personnel indicating they were planning to quit, according to a survey.

The disgruntled Ohakea officer said it was ironic that as gaps were appearing in the trades as people left, some people who had taken redundancy had been asked back to fill the gaps.

Manawatu Standard